Barack Obama’s campaign focus has been all about change. But standing in front of a giant sign dominated by the word “change,” much of his wife’s speech Friday at Spokane’s Fox theater highlighted a topic usually stressed by Hillary Clinton’s camp: experience.
Michelle Obama pointed to her husband’s years as a community activist in Chicago and his eight years in the Illinois Legislature before winning a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2004.
“As we talk about experience, the truth of the matter is that Barack has more legislative experience than his opponent,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president of the United States who understands how federal law impacts local government? Barack is the only candidate who brings that kind of perspective.”
Obama gave a 50-minute address to a boisterous crowd. About 1,600 people found seats in the theater. Another 100 or so listened from the gallery. About 200 were shut out completely.
Without providing much in the way of specific proposals, Michelle Obama said her husband would improve education, create more access to health care, increase respect for the U.S. abroad and help unite the country.
Just because Obama is experienced, that doesn’t mean he’s the same-old politician, she said.
“What Barack did with his years in politics was not become a part of that system,” she said. “When you’re free, when you are not owned or you don’t owe, but you’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do, you can take risks.”
Obama and Clinton are locked in a close battle for the Democratic nomination. Three days after voting ended in the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, the race for delegates in those contests was too close to call Friday. With 91 delegates still to be divided, Obama had earned 796 from Tuesday to 794 for Clinton, according to the Associated Press.
Clinton, however, was leading the overall delegate count, 1,055 to Obama’s 998.
Today, 97 delegates are up for grabs in Washington’s Democratic precinct caucuses.
“This momentum has been building,” Michelle Obama said.
“When was the last time we had a Democratic candidate who could win South Carolina and Utah?” she asked before adding “Idaho” after a few shouts from the crowd.
The would-be first lady spent much of her address talking about “regular folks” and their struggles with health care, jobs going overseas and mounting debts to pay for college.
“It has gotten progressively worse for regular folks through Republican and Democratic administrations,” she said.
Spokane resident Jessie Marshall agreed. She was one of a few dozen supporters who reached from the audience to shake Obama’s hand after the speech.
“I am really ready for a change. I used to think I was in the middle class. Now I feel I’m lower middle class,” Marshall said. “I’m not voting for Barack Obama because he’s black. I’m voting for him because, as his wife said, he’s brilliant.”
Before the event, several hundred people lined a block down Sprague and around to Madison Street. After doors opened and the theater filled, campaign organizers counted empty seats and told security to let just enough in to fill them.
“Twelve people! There’s nobody else coming in here,” shouted Spokane police Lt. Darrell Toombs. State Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, needed an escort to get in the building because the theater had reached capacity. He and state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, introduced Obama.
Kristin Taylor, an Obama campaign volunteer from Montana, said Spokane shouldn’t be offended that Barack Obama chose to make his Washington appearances on the West Side of the state. He and Michelle are trying to cover as much ground as possible in the few days between contests, she said.
Many said they were just as happy to have Michelle.
“My dad was disappointed (Barack) wasn’t coming, but after listening to her, I’m not disappointed,” said Dalton Paget, a 19-year-old Eastern Washington University student. “I would vote for her right now.”