Being a columnist in a state where Barack Obama won by 14,000 votes in 2008 means you get to take part in a 2012 conference call with Michelle Obama as she launches an initiative to find, register and get out the vote. It also gets you a brief conversation with Democratic convention delegate Ashley Judd, most known for her acting but in Charlotte to continue the political activism that’s long been a part of her life.
Last week, the first lady talked with a few women writers from swing states to launch her It Takes One campaign and explain why it’s important to her husband’s re-election. On Sunday, Judd came to Charlotte to host the Obama campaign’s latest Women Vote 2012 Summit at Central Piedmont Community College. With polls tight, North Carolina remains in the center of the political universe.
I’ve been writing about the involvement of both of the candidates’ spouses in a presidential race that Michelle Obama acknowledged promises to be “even closer than the last one.” It’s no coincidence that Ann Romney fit Greensboro into her schedule last week for a fundraiser and rally, where she praised her husband's business experience without the pushback the candidate himself might face.
Though it’s early, the first lady and the woman who hopes to be are seriously all in.
“Women, including so many of your readers, are going to be an important part of this effort over the next several months,” Michelle Obama said during the call. “This movement has always been built one new voter at a time, one phone call at a time, one door knock at a time. Those votes are spread out over an entire state across hundreds of cities and thousand of precincts.”
Michelle Obama and Ann Romney, bringing along warmer styles and greater popularity numbers, have been prominent surrogates for husbands with reputations for coolness. The Obama campaign has been organizing Women for Obama events in North Carolina, and in the call the first lady touched on issues ranging from health care, including mammograms and pre-natal care, to equal pay and education.
“Between now and election day, we as women have to make sure that our mothers and daughters and sisters and our best friends ... understand everything that’s at stake, not just for us but for future generations of women.” A website targeted to each state hammers home the message.
She wasn’t afraid to re-visit the themes of four years ago, ones the Obama campaign have shied away from, considering the country’s stubborn economic problems (in North Carolina, that’s an unemployment number higher than the national average).
“Hope,” she said, “is always a part of our democracy and people understand that we’ve come a long way and we have a lot more work to do.”
Judd made clear in our conversation on Sunday that she supports the It Takes One initiative.
“I like the first lady’s call to action, that each of us can register a new voter, learn one new fact, receive one new clarification regarding the many distortions that are out there regarding the president’s accomplishments; have one more conversation about why this election is crucial," she said.
“The president’s policies help girls and women become educated, employed and empowers their health,” Judd said, and offered statistics such as more money for 72 million women through tax cuts, 18 tax credits to small businesses owned by women, 1.3 million jobs for women added to the private sector and access to preventative healthcare services. “When we provide a stable upbringing for our children, we improve social outcomes for our whole country,” she said, and called child poverty “an absolute and total stain on the consciousness of this country.” She said it is “unacceptable” that 16 million American children are hungry and food insecure, and 10 percent are uninsured.
Judd, who has worked with the Clinton Global Initiative, recently hosted a forum with former president Bill Clinton in London. She grew up in eastern Kentucky and said she has been active in politics since her time as a student at the University of Kentucky. She said it was an “obligation and privilege” to participate in political life.
“I don’t necessarily remember when I got my driving license, but by God I remember when I got my voter registration card.”
In Charlotte, she touched on her state connections (“my pop’s people were many, many generations of North Carolinians”), and said, “Although we don’t necessarily share the schools, a love for basketball is something we have in common.”
Judd, who at times cradled her “cockapoo” Buttermilk during the interview, will return to Charlotte as a convention delegate representing Tennessee, where she has lived for years. When I asked why President Obama has such a problem winning the support of her fellow Southerners, she said, “I’d be a genius if I knew. All I can hope is that we can help clarify the narrative and present the facts.”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte-based journalist, is a contributor to The Washington Post's “She the People” blog, The Root and theGrio. Her “Keeping It Positive” segment airs Wednesdays at 7:10 a.m. on Fox News Rising Charlotte, and she was national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.