Metro

Michelle Obama rallies support for Raimondo

First lady touts growing the middle class as recent poll shows tight race for governor before Tuesday

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2014

In a rally in Providence, First Lady Michelle Obama urged Rhode Island voters to elect Democratic nominee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo in Tuesday's race for governor.

Hundreds of eyes in the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex gymnasium in Providence turned toward the podium, where First Lady Michelle Obama spoke in support of gubernatorial Democratic nominee Gina Raimondo Thursday afternoon.

With the race for governor entering the final sprint, the entire Rhode Island congressional delegation introduced Raimondo and Obama. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., U.S. Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., and U.S. Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., each delivered brief remarks before Raimondo and Obama spoke.

“This election is not about the folks that are up here on this stage,” Obama began, referring to the state’s Democratic officials behind the podium.

“We are fighting for the kind of work we want to leave for our kids and grandkids,” Obama said. Her speech, entitled “Rebuilding the Middle Class,” focused on the importance of providing better opportunities to middle-class families, with education reform and employment rates touted as critical initiatives.

“We need to get Gina Raimondo in,” Obama said. Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to determine if Raimondo is elected the first female governor of Rhode Island. A Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions poll released Tuesday showed Raimondo and the Republican candidate, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, tied among voters, The Herald reported Wednesday.

Raimondo “knows what it means to work for what you want in life,” Obama said.

Raimondo, who introduced the first lady, said “it is time to rebuild because our families deserve to work and our families deserve better.”

“My vision for this state of Rhode Island is a rebuilt economy that includes everybody,” Raimondo said, citing her middle-class background as a large influence on her political goals.

Raimondo said she will expand statewide college scholarship funds and start a college loan forgiveness program in order to combat high student loan debt. “I took that RIPTA bus to school, and that put me on a path of opportunity,” she added.

“For all the young people here, there is nothing more important than getting your education,” Obama said, echoing Raimondo’s comments. She said children from disadvantaged backgrounds “have every reason to give up,” but “those kids never give up, and neither can we.”

Obama spoke about Rashema Melson, a girl whom the first lady mentors. After facing homelessness and her father’s early death from murder, she persevered and “still showed up every morning to class,” becoming her school’s valedictorian. Melson is now on a full scholarship to Georgetown University, Obama said.

Though Obama said “things are starting to get better across this country” and cited a decrease in the national unemployment rate, she added that the Ocean State still needs to improve its job landscape, given that it has the third-highest unemployment rate in the country.

With the Democratic and Republican nominees neck-and-neck in recent polls, the two campaigns’ turnout operations will likely be key.

“The work on the ground really matters,” Obama said. She encouraged the audience to commit to “at least three volunteer shifts this weekend” in support of the Raimondo campaign.

Elections like this one can be decided by mere thousands of votes and have very significant outcomes, Obama said, adding that if voters stay home on Election Day, “we’ll see less support for kids’ schools” and “we’ll see more special breaks for those at the top.”

Jonathan Boucher, executive director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, told The Herald that getting people out to vote is the Democratic Party’s main priority. “The main purpose right now is turning out voters we’ve identified as likely supporters and making sure that they get out to vote,” he said.

“We want to encourage every student to get out there that is registered to vote,” Boucher said.

“You got to get it done, Rhode Island,” Obama said, adding that ensuring a Raimondo victory in the tight race “won’t be easy.”

Juanita Sanchez students who write for the school paper were invited by the Raimondo campaign into the event’s press area, said Robert Nerney, an ELA teacher at Juanita Sanchez.

Cristal Marte, a senior at Juanita Sanchez, covered the event for the school paper. “It’s rewarding, actually getting to be here in the back and getting to talk to important people,” Marte said.

“It was a good experience,” said Yordy Garcia, another writer for the Juanita Sanchez school paper.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also visited Rhode Island last week to advocate for the Raimondo’s campaign. Clinton’s talk focused on the importance of improving minimum wage laws, building infrastructure and decreasing unemployment, The Herald reported.

“I thought that the issues and actual policies were the same things that Hillary and Gina talked about. But the way (Obama) approached the discussion, I thought was really organic and amicable,” said Joseph Van Wye ’15, who attended both campaign rallies. “She brought her own personality to it,” he said.