PORTLAND, Maine — First lady Michelle Obama trumpeted the importance of widespread and equal access to education and health care during her speech at the Ocean Gateway Terminal in Portland on Friday and acknowledged that the country has more work to do creating jobs and turning the economy around.
The first lady was in Maine for two fundraising events for her husband’s re-election campaign, stopping first at a luncheon at a private Cape Elizabeth home, then moving on to the Ocean Gateway event. Tickets to attend one of the two events ranged from $100 apiece to several thousand dollars.
Nearly 650 supporters filled the Ocean Gateway venue, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud gave the first lady a pair of Skowhegan-made New Balance sneakers, a nod to Michelle Obama’s fitness and healthy living initiatives as well as Michaud’s proposed bill to put American-made athletic shoes on all military enlistees, fellow Rep. Chellie Pingree told the Bangor Daily News.
“I would say the audience was very enthusiastic,” Pingree said after the event. “The first lady was articulate, passionate, and talked about the challenges we’re facing. It was a great visit and the state should be proud she came here.”
The 1st District congresswoman said Obama “was very intense on talking about jobs and the economic climate.”
“[Michelle Obama] said that she and the president and their daughters were some of the lucky people, but she said one of the things about being American is that we’re not doing well if we’re not all doing well,” Pingree said. “[She talked about] how important it is to the president for everyone to get a good education and that health care is accessible for all. A lot of her message was about equality and fairness and justice.”
State Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, brought his 5-year-old daughter, Carly, to the fundraiser. They were among a few dozen VIPs who met with the first lady during a private reception just before she spoke.
McCabe said he was moved when Obama spoke about her husband’s commitment to helping people and promoting opportunity for everyone.
“She talked about how we don’t leave people behind,” McCabe said. “She was a dynamic speaker. As good as him, if not better.”
The first lady spoke for approximately 25 minutes during her Portland appearance, then was escorted by motorcade to the Portland International Jetport. There she boarded a plane to Providence, R.I., where she had additional fundraising events scheduled Friday evening.
Michelle Obama is proving to be successful at both energizing Democrats and raising money, according to The Associated Press. More than a year out from Election Day, she is hauling in millions in campaign cash.
Democrats declined to say how much Obama raised during her visit to Maine on Friday.
Since mid-May, she has headlined more than a dozen fundraisers from Vermont to California.
Today ends the year’s third-quarter period for campaign finance reports. Obama for America, the president’s re-election campaign committee, collected more than $47 million in the quarter ending June 30 and is on track to exceed the $745 million he raised to win election in 2008.
While in Portland, Michelle Obama urged event attendees to be patient with her husband’s initiatives and said a Republican victory in the 2012 presidential election would be a blow for working families.
“Change that is lasting and meaningful takes time,” she said, according to a print pool report released from the event.
Many of those who heard the speech said they were moved by her message.
“She was fabulous,” said Anne Belden, president of Hardy Girls, Healthy Women, a nonprofit group that promotes learning experiences for young women, according to the print pool report. “I love the role model she’s being for women and girls everywhere.”
Reportedly among those in attendance at the Ocean Gateway venue Friday were Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones, mayoral candidate and former state lawmaker Michael Brennan, former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, former Attorney General Janet Mills and Kit St. John, director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
Also there were 14 members of the Yarmouth Colts girls soccer team, mostly between the ages of 11 and 12 years old, who came to get their picture taken with Michelle Obama.
“We are so excited,” Greta Elder, 12, said. “We are so excited. Our feet were jittery all day.”
Colin Gulley, banjo player for the North Haven indie bluegrass band The Toughcats, was scheduled to play for about an hour while attendees get checked by security agents and began assembling for afternoon speeches by the first lady, Michaud and Pingree.
“It seemed like there was a lot of buzz among the caterers and the people who were loading in flowers,” Gulley told the Bangor Daily News just before noontime Friday. “I got the impression people were really excited the first lady is coming to Portland. It’s a good buzz going on around there.”
Gulley said his band was honored to be invited to play at the event.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to be in her shoes,” he said. “I know they tend to whisk the first lady and president in and out of events pretty quickly because of security and time constraints. We’re just happy to be there.”
Kirsten Martin, the chairwoman of the Portland Republican City Committee, said she hasn’t “paid much attention” to Michelle Obama’s visit.
“Unless you have the couple thousand dollars you need to go see her, I don’t think it affects anybody,” Martin told the Bangor Daily News on Friday. “I don’t understand how anyone can still support the president. He hasn’t accomplished anything. I think I’m a reasonable person who will vote for a candidate who will get things done, and he hasn’t done that. … I think a lot of Republicans are now saying we’d even rather have Hillary [Clinton] than Barack. Even she’d have a better grasp on things.”
Pingree said she discussed with the first lady the looming renewal of the U.S. Farm Bill, which is reconsidered by Congress approximately every five years and last was passed in 2008.
The lawmaker said she talked to Michelle Obama about provisions that would support increased accessibility to locally grown produce, in contrast to the bill’s historically large subsidies for major corn and soybean growers.
“People in Maine are very conscious about where their food comes from,” Pingree said. “It’s an issue that resonates across party lines and ideology in our state.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.