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Locals Enjoy Lunch with First Lady

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Michelle Obama raises $1 million-plus at Southland fundraisers

By Chris Levister –

While President Barack Obama promoted job creation in politically important North Carolina Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama hit the campaign fundraising circuit in Southern California.

Surrounded by showplace homes with meticulously manicured lawns, close to 600 guests braved the morning chill snaked outside the gates of Ann and Robert Hamilton’s Pasadena mansion on Orlando Road.

Under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service and local law enforcement, the crowd – most of them women - passed through airport-like security for a $1,000 per person lunch-time fundraiser organized by the Southern California Women for Obama.

Outside of the two-story Mediterraneanstyle home, guests seated at tables draped in white linen, sipped wine and dined on tamales, baby mesclun greens and blueberry ‘cutie’ pies.

A strumming harpist and the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles entertained while the first lady surrounded by a lavish array of white orchid plants inside gave “private time” and a photo opportunity to $10,000-a-couple donors.

Wearing a sleeveless blue dress, Mrs. Obama stood at a podium beneath a tree bursting with lavender flowers. Pasadena political consultant Lena Kennedy, the cochair of the event, introduced her as “the not-so-secret weapon of the President of the United States.”

She began her 25-minute speech by recounting her husband's journey to the White House, beginning with the moment he told her he wanted to run for President.

“I wasn't exactly thrilled at the idea,” she said. “I still had some cynicism about politics that was my hesitation.” But she recalled being transformed on the campaign trail by meeting and hearing the stories of everyday Americans.

She recalled a campaign stop in Iowa before the 2008 Democratic primary there, where she grew so comfortable with the people she was chatting with, she kicked off her heels.

“I was just standing barefoot in the grass, talking to people,” Mrs. Obama said.

She said the moment made her realize that campaigning is “about meeting people one-on-one and learning about what was going on in their lives.”

And it led to a revelation about Americans: “Whether you grew up on the South Side of Chicago or Iowa, our stories are shared.”

She drew applause as she described the anxieties that come with the nation’s highest office.

The late nights at the White House “after we’ve put the girls to bed,” when the president sits hunched at a desk, reading letters from Americans about their problems.

“I see the sadness and worry that's creasing his face,” she said. “We hear you.”

She described his work ethic as tireless and focused.

“He’s always focused on the goal post in the distance rather than what’s in front of him. He reads every word, every memo, so he is better prepared than the people briefing him,” she said. “He has a steel trap mind. This man doesn't take a day off.”

Obama then highlighted some of the things her husband has done in office during his first two years. “We've gone from an economy that was on the brink of collapse to an economy that is starting to grow again,” she said.

She also mentioned health care reform, the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. She praised “justice” in the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the withdrawal of troops from overseas.

“We are responsibly ending the war in Iraq and have brought home 100,000 servicemen and women,” she said.

Obama said the next year of campaigning would be difficult at times for the Obama family and their supporters. “It is not going to be easy, and it is going to be long,” she said. “Now more than ever we need your help to finish what we started.”

Kennedy, who served on the President's National Finance Committee during his first campaign, called the fundraising event a huge success.

“There was an amazing energy in the air and a buzz in the crowd. There was a huge sense of pride and admiration. Everyone was there for one purpose and everyone was excited to be in the presence of this incredible woman.”

Classy, strong, intelligent, impressive, elegant were words used to describe Mrs. Obama.

“She’s awesome,” said Kim Carter, CEO/Founder of Time for Change Foundation based in San Bernardino.

“Her goal was to humanize the Obama’s and show everyone they were just like “us” and I think she succeeded,” said Carter.

“She’s an incredibly strong role model. I was impressed to see so many young women there, especially considering the cost,” said retired Inland Empire principal Joy Parker.

“Her words, wisdom, and worklife balance encourages women to do more and be more regardless of circumstance or the color of their skin while recognizing the strength we have as African-American women,” said co-chair Dr. Laura Wiltz. “Her story relates to so many women across the country: 'Giving back' isn't just something she does on her off day, she has lived it for most of her life.”

Earlier in the day, the first lady helped head an entertainment panel in Beverly Hills to encourage Hollywood professionals to shine a light on the stories of U.S. servicemen and women and their families.

“They’re strong. They don’t ask for much. This isn’t just about their stories, but it’s really about having the men and women and their families that serve our country feel the gratitude,” said Mrs. Obama.

Monday evening, the first lady attended a second fundraiser in Westwood. The money from both fundraisers goes to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint venture of the campaign to re-elect President Obama and the Democratic National Committee.

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