Michelle Obama, wife of presidential candidate Barack Obama, made several stops in the state Monday to drum up support for her husband in his presidential bid.
Energizing average people about a national election and convincing them that they play a vital role in the political process brought the wife of presidential hopeful Barack Obama to Peoria on Monday.
"Peoria is important because, first of all, it’s (in) our home state … you don’t take home for granted. Much of how the state of Illinois, especially Peoria, thinks about this thing is indicative of how the country thinks about it," the senator’s wife, Michelle, told the Journal Star.
She stopped in Peoria to launch the "Downstate Women for Obama" committee and rally with 400 supporters and those still undecided who paid $35 to attend or $1,000 to host the event at the Civic Center.
Also, Peoria is important because of its close proximity to Iowa — another early voting state, Michelle Obama said.
"I think it means something if Peoria, Illinois residents march across the state line and talk to their neighbors over in Iowa about what this man can do for our country. It’s a critical set of relationships," Michelle Obama said.
As she spoke, her husband was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, touting what he called the most far-reaching ethics and lobbying reform plan of any presidential candidate that he plans to bring to the White House.
"… We have an opportunity to really turn the page and move our country in a different direction for politics," Michelle Obama said. "Barack didn’t get in this race just to be in the White House or to win. Fundamentally, he believes that the political process, the way people engage in public discussion needs to change."
To that end, Michelle Obama said the tour, which included stops in Champaign and Rockford, was successful.
"Whenever I walk out of an event, people are ready to work, they’re ready to commit, and commitment means a lot of different things," she said, adding it can mean donating money to the campaign, getting people to register to vote, volunteering and more.
"When I feel like I’ve ignited that kind of enthusiasm, whether they’ve left a check or not, I feel like ‘Wow! Yes! We did it.’ This is what we’re trying to do here," she said.
The amount of money required to run a presidential campaign can be "bewildering." But fostering grass-roots efforts also is important and holding bigger, small-dollar rallies is important to touch everyone.
"We need to have more people at the table and feeling excited and feeling like they have a stake in this," Michelle Obama said.
Peoria County Democrat Party Chairman Billy Halstead said Michelle Obama is a good speaker, straight-talker and boosts her husband’s bid.
"She’s bright, she’s intelligent and she can talk to you in a language that the voters want to hear," Halstead said after the event. "She said don’t think about what’s wrong with your life. Think about how you are going to change it and what are you going to make out of it …"
Monday’s event also drew people from across party lines, something many say the Democrat junior senator from Illinois has a knack for.
"He’s very moderate and stated many times whoever our president is should support all people," said Woodford County Democratic Party Chairman David McBride. "I think anywhere she goes, when the public gets the opportunity to meet Michele Obama, they are very impressed with her. She’d make a great first lady."
Diane Oberhelman, CEO of Cullinan Properties Ltd., said she’s not throwing her support behind the couple yet, but wanted to learn more about Michelle and Barack Obama. "I have a lot of respect for Michelle and have to think Peoria is very lucky to have her here."
Don Jackson, attorney and the local and state NAACP president, called the event historic. "Obviously, this is a historic occasion. The main speaker is the wife of who I believe is the first legitimate African-American who is a candidate for president of the United States."
Running a nationwide candidacy is "100 times the work" of running a statewide race, one that forces a balancing act at home with two young daughters. Though she’s on the trail and still working as vice president of community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Michelle Obama said it’s rare she’s not at home in the evenings, so she can wake up with the children.
"That way, they don’t feel like they’re sacrificing their mom and their dad. It requires a lot of extra juggling, but the juggling is worth it if your kids are grounded," Michelle Obama said. "And then I really try to prioritize healthy eating and exercise … I feel like that’s how I keep my energy up. I can’t do this if I’m sluggish or tired."
Joining Barack Obama on the campaign trail in a high-profile role helps them cover more ground.
"If we can transform the country in that way and more people are engaged then we’ve already won. But we also want to get this man in the White House, too," Michelle Obama said.
Karen McDonald can be reached at (309) 686-3285 or email@example.com.