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Michelle Obama highlights president's middle-class roots

September 04, 2012|By Christi Parsons
  • First Lady Michelle Obama touts her husband's middle-class upbringing in remarks Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention.
First Lady Michelle Obama touts her husband's middle-class upbringing… (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles…)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Michelle Obama  made a pitch for her husband on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention that was rooted in his well-known personal story but tweaked to remind listeners of the president’s connection to the middle class.

Offering new details of the young man she met in Chicago 23 years ago, she talked about how he used to pick her up for dates in a car so rusted out that she could see the pavement below as they traveled.

His proudest possession was a coffee table he'd found in a dumpster, she said, and the only pair of decent shoes he owned was a half-size too small.

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But while neither his birth family nor hers had much in the way of possessions, she said, they aspired to give their children something more.

They believed that “even if you don’t start out with much,” she said, “you should be able to build a better life for yourself.”

In delivering the key address on the first night of the convention Tuesday night, Michelle Obama proved again that she is a stirring speaker in her own right while also being the president’s most reliable surrogate. She hit hard on an important point in her team's campaign strategy, one that casts Obama as a regular guy against Republican Mitt Romney as a rich and privileged one.

She kept the crowd at an unusual hush as she spoke softly, but then in an extended crescendo built to a climax as she closed by assuring Americans they can trust her husband to steer the country in the right direction.

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In that sense, it was similar to the appeal Ann Romney made for her husband at last week’s Republican convention. Romney told personal stories about Mitt Romney, offering an accessible version of the wealthy, buttoned-down businessman that many Americans hadn’t seen before.

Americans know the Obama story, though, and the first lady’s job in Charlotte was to make it relevant to a discussion about competing visions for the country.

Middle-class voters can trust Obama, came the sales pitch, because he is one of them. He may be wealthy now, but it hasn’t always been so.

“For Barack, success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives,” the first lady said. “I love that he has never forgotten how he started."

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christi.parsons@latimes.com

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