Michelle Obama, PA Dems Make Final Push To Get Out The Vote In Philly

Michelle Obama is not what you would call a natural politician. With the loquacious Guvna, Ed Rendell, emceeing for a good portion of the night, and a host of Philadelphia/Pennsylvania pols making cameos at Monday night’s “get out the vote” rally at the University of Pennsylvania, it would not have been surprising to anyone if President Barack Obama’s better half got lost in the shuffle. Yet in an election climate where incumbents are holding on for dear life and anti-Washington sentiment is sweeping over both blue and red states, Michelle Obama’s non-political perspective made her the perfect person to shed light on the importance of tomorrow’s midterm election.

MIchelle Obama addresses the crowd at a University of Pennsylvania rally on Monday night.

First Lady Michelle Obama addresses the crowd at a University of Pennsylvania rally on Monday night.

“Think about how we all felt on election night [in 2008],” said Obama. “We were excited because we knew we had a chance to change this country for the better. Our campaign was never about putting one man in office. It was about building a movement of change for years and years to come.”

With an estimated 3500 students and adults braving the freezing cold conditions, Obama addressed the crowd, not as the first lady or a loyal Democrat, but as a woman and mother who can relate to middle class hardships. She gave anecdotes about her father, Fraser Robinson, who worked for the city of Chicago at a water plant, to demonstrate her understanding of working for every last dollar to support a family. To highlight the accomplishments of health care reform, she discussed President Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham, and her battle with health insurance companies who wouldn’t cover her payments because they deemed her cancer a pre-existing condition, a practice which is now illegal under the health care bill.

There was no Republican bashing, no campaign promises and strangely, hardly a mention of the state’s high profile Democratic candidates, gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato, and senatorial candidate Joe Sestak. Just a concerned mother of two who wanted to connect with the crowd on a personal level in order to encourage voter turnout.

“I come at this stuff, more than anything else, as a mom,” said Obama. “When I think about the issues that are affecting our nation, I think about what it means for my girls, and I think about what it means for the world we are leaving behind for them and for all our children.”

While Obama spoke from the heart in her sincere message, she left the stumping to the legislators. Earlier in the evening, Rendell seemed to be enjoying his role as the one-foot-out-the-door-man, hamming it up with the crowd, performing his requisite alumni duties of showering UPenn with praise and interjecting political commentary when necessary.

“We have one job to do, because this is not a presidential year, but in many ways it will determine just what progressive politics can do for the next two years,” said Rendell. “We can’t wait for 2012, the problems are too great, so we must win tomorrow.”

Pennsylvania Congressional members Allyson Schwartz and Chaka Fattah were also introduced to hearty applause. Schwartz in particular, was cheered for her integral role in shaping the health care legislation, and considering her tough re-election campaign against Republican businessman Dee Adcock she could use all the support she can get. She appealed to the young audience by citing the new law under the health care bill which allows children to stay on their parents health insurance until they are 26.

Fattah, introduced by Rendell as the “education Congressman” and who is not up for re-election, spent most of his brief speech discussing how great UPenn is, (whoop-dee-doo says this Temple grad) and predicted that his congressional district, which covers most of West and North Philadelphia, would produce more votes than any other district in the state. He also was one of the few speakers this evening to fire shots at the state’s Republican candidates for governor and senate, Tom Corbett and Pat Toomey, respectively.

“When you’ve got this Republican, Corbett, who would subpoena Twitter to find two or three people who criticized him, you know this is not somebody who should be given any more power,” said Fattah, before adding, “I served with Toomey in Congress, this is not someone who deserves a promotion to the US Senate.”

Mayor Nutter and Senator Bob Casey showed their faces briefly, with Nutter speaking metaphorically about cleaning up elephant shit, and Casey saying nothing of note besides praising Rendell for his leadership. Onorato and Sestak also made appearances, but one would think given that they are the two Democrats on the ballot today, that their names would have been mentioned incessantly. Instead, Onorato was relegated to a three-minute speech where he ran down his platform as quickly as possible, focusing on creating green jobs and early childhood education. Sestak, donning a green bomber jacket, tried speaking inspirationally, centering on Philadelphia’s low graduation rate and defending his vote for health care reform by touching on his young daughter’s battle with brain cancer.

While the main event was clearly the first lady’s appearance, given both candidates’ narrow margin of error on Election Day, the Democrats may regret not placing more of a premium on them in what should be a tight race.

Photo: Ryan Greenberg

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