MANCHESTER, N.H. — Michelle Obama did her part for Democratic unity here today, referring to Hillary Clinton as an "extraordinary woman" at a round-table event with former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen.
"Because of Hillary Clinton’s work, the issues of importance to women and working families are more at the forefront than ever before," Obama said, the day before Barack Obama will appear with Clinton for the first time since the primary ended.
Naturally enough, she sought to portray herself and her husband as closely in tune with female concerns.
One of the first rounds of applause during her brief speech came when she paid tribute to her mother for resourcefulness. She was met with murmurs of assent when she recalled her own attempt to move into part-time work after the birth of her children.
"I was doing the same amount of work. I just crammed it into fewer hours," Obama said–adding that she was rewarded only with "part-time pay" for her trouble.
More broadly, Obama asserted that women and working families needed "someone who will not only support their policies but will champion their causes. I firmly believe Barack Obama is that champion."
While discussing a question from an audience member, Obama also criticized a national ethos she blamed on the current administration.
"We have had leaders who have said, ‘It’s O.K. so long as your world is fine.’ There has been this philosophy that we should not have to give up anything for the greater good," she said.
Not every moment was so serious, however. As she began to introduce the four local women gathered around a table with her and Shaheen, Obama said, "This is our version of The View. … We’re not going to tell you who we’re supposed to be."
When a teacher on the panel referred to the problems of students being inadequately fed, saying that she herself would not be able to learn much after twelve hours without food, Obama exclaimed in surprise, "You can go that long? Give me three!"
Those moments seemed to help the would-be first lady win over the crowd. She was returning to the scene of a traumatic night in her husband’s primary campaign, the audience was largely comprised of the middle-aged women who were the backbone of Clinton’s support, and Shaheen’s husband famously had to resign as a Clinton campaign co-chair after raising issues regarding Barack Obama’s youthful drug use in a Washington Post interview last December.
Obama was unequivocal in urging the audience to support Shaheen in her bid to unseat John Sununu from the Senate in November, though it would be an exaggeration to describe the chemistry between the two women as warm. During the Q&A session, for instance, Obama and Shaheen tended to provide their answers to each of the questions raised politely but without rapport.
The final question, however, came from 65-year-old Sandra Burt of Concord. She spoke with passion about the difficulties she has faced in meeting her health care costs, ultimately coming to rely upon a charitable foundation to meet the bulk of a monthly bill for life-saving medication that runs in excess of $2000.
Obama suggested, in response, that part of the solution was at hand:
"We can vote this woman [Shaheen] into the Senate. We can work for my husband to be the next president of the United States. We have the power in November to move this country in a fundamentally different direction."
Burt told me afterwards that she had voted for John Edwards in the Democratic primary. She declined to state who she would support in November, citing the need to maintain impartiality while working for a group trying to raise awareness of health care issues. She did, however note that she didn’t like John McCain’s health care policies.
Among the crowd attending the event was 58-year-old Francie Smith, a teacher from Amherst, New Hampshire. Smith said she had followed Barack Obama since his 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention and had become a confirmed supporter when she "heard him come through with the substance."
"I really believe there is something different about him," Smith added. "Something decent, something gentlemanly."
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