Michelle Obama talks money with voters

April 7, 2008 9:00:00 PM PDT
The measures of success in the presidential campaign change each time Barack Obama surpasses expectations, his wife said Tuesday, arguing that voters also face shifting standards in their own lives.

"They tell you to raise money, you raise money," Michelle Obama said during a stop in North Carolina. "They tell you to build an organization, and you build an organization.

"And you work hard and you reach that bar. Sometimes you surpass the bar and you look around and all of a sudden the bar has moved. The bar has changed on you and you wonder what happened."

Obama told a raucous crowd of about 2,000 people at Winston-Salem State University that students face a similar plight, surpassing the standards needed to get into college only to struggle with the rising costs of tuition. It's no different with the nation's seniors, she said, who are discovering their pensions don't pay enough to cover the rising costs of living.

"Folks don't mind working hard," Obama said. "They don't mind a high bar. Some just want to know that the bar will be still -- that's all they want to know."

Earlier Tuesday, Obama met with a group of about 50 women at a town-hall meeting in Harrisburg, just north of Charlotte, part of her daylong tour of North Carolina ahead of the state's May 6 primary. She spoke to a crowd of about 3,000 at North Carolina State University on Tuesday night, where the crowd gave her several standing ovations.

She told the smaller crowd that it wasn't until Barack Obama wrote a pair of best-selling books that the couple escaped their student loan debt, an experience she said helps them understand everyday challenges better than policymakers in Washington.

"We are not so far away from life that we don't understand and get it," Obama said.

At the Tuesday morning forum, the women said increases in the cost of gas, education and health care -- along with an unstable job market -- have taken a toll.

"The truth is most Americans don't want much," Obama said. "Folks don't want the whole pie. Most Americans feel blessed to thrive a little bit -- but that's out of reach for them."

Obama told the crowd that when she and her husband graduated from Harvard Law School, the monthly payments on their school loan debt was more than their monthly mortgage payment. She said they only got out of that debt when Barack Obama wrote his two books, "The Audacity of Hope" and "Dreams from My Father."

Most of the Obamas' income in 2006, when they had $991,296 in annual income, came from royalties on the books. That was down from the nearly $1.7 million they took in 2005, a total also boosted by a book deal. The Obamas have not released their 2007 tax returns, but have pledged to do so later this month.

Obama's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination -- New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- reported earning $20.4 million along with her husband in 2007. Since leaving the White House, the Clintons have made nearly $109 million, much of it coming from book deals and Bill Clinton's speeches.


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