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Michelle Obama Reflects on the Campaign and Convention

August 26, 2008 at 10:05 PM EDT
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Michelle Obama sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss her speech on Monday night in Denver as well as the last year and a half of campaigning with her husband, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mrs. Obama, thank you very much for talking with us. The reviews of your convention speech last night are in, mostly positive, some glowing. How do you think you did?

MICHELLE OBAMA, Wife of Sen. Barack Obama: You know, I think it was a solid speech. We spent a lot of time preparing. But what’s interesting is that that speech was really just a more polished version of what I’ve done on the stump for the last 19 months.

I mean, I really spent this time trying to introduce a broader perspective of who Barack is by introducing people to our family and by telling stories and to sharing our life. So it was an expanded version of that, but that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the last year-and-a-half.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, with the polls tightening, your husband’s lead that had been there slipping a bit, now, this — your speech last night was interpreted by many as mainly an effort to re-introduce your husband to the American people, to say, “This is somebody who’s a loyal American, a good father, somebody who can identify with regular people.”

Why is it necessary at this point in the campaign to re-introduce?

MICHELLE OBAMA: Well, I don’t know if I’d call it re-introducing. As I’ve said, you know, what I said last night was not very different from what I’ve been saying. I’ve been introducing Barack for the entire year.

I think this is a bigger stage. Now that he’s the nominee, now that we’ve gotten past the Olympics and we’re heading into the fall, the focus of the nation is on this election.

And that’s what these conventions are for, really, because I believe there were 22 million viewers watching last night. And some of those are people who have only read about Barack in the papers and, you know, maybe have heard something on a television show.

But this was a good chance to say, “This is who we are. This is our story.”

And I wouldn’t call it a re-introduction. I would call it the beginning of what will be a very close and competitive general election.

Winning votes with the truth

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, there were also -- your speech was also viewed by some as an effort to repair what some polls I guess had shown were negative impressions that had accumulated about you, your values, your view of the country.

How concerned were you going in about that? And do you have any concerns about that now?

MICHELLE OBAMA: You know, I mean, this is politics. And I've always felt that, when people hear my story and they hear the truth of my story, then they'll understand who I am. You know, I try not the lose sleep over how Barack's opponents have mischaracterized who I am.

But this speech wasn't intended to repair or to address. It was really, you know, as much as it could be for me, an honest and open discussion about how I was raised, and how Barack was raised, and how we hope to raise our kids, because I think, you know, those are the things that move people.

They want to know that, at some level, the people who are going to run this country understand the issues that folks are facing and that they connect on a very fundamental level.

And I think that our stories do that in a very compelling way. They always have. I think that's why Barack is the nominee.

You know, and those are the kind of things that I've seen on the ground on the campaign. You know, I would joke -- I say there, you know, throughout this primary process, it's always felt as if there were two conversations going on, one up here sort of in sort of pundit world, which didn't seem accurate, and there was the one conversation that was happening on the ground, in the one-on-one discussions that I was having, in the roundtable discussions that I was having, and in the conversations Barack has been having with the community.

And in those discussions, the connections are clear. So I think this convention just provided a broader forum to do what we've been doing in smaller venues throughout this year-and-a-half.

Role of Clinton, McCain in Campaign

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tonight, Senator Hillary Clinton, of course, is the speaker. A lot of people are waiting for her. She's the final speaker tonight. Questions about how enthusiastic she's going to be, how much oomph she's going to put into her support for your husband. What are your expectations?

MICHELLE OBAMA: You know, my -- Hillary Clinton has been nothing but supportive. She has been personally supportive to me. I've talked to her one-on-one. She's given me advice how to maneuver this process with the girls.

She called to congratulate me on my speech. She's been on the stump asking her funders to move, really pushing them to move. And she's been in some major swing states campaigning very hard on behalf of Barack. That's a fact.

That's been our relationship with Hillary since the primaries have been over. So it's my expectation that she's going to continue that call.

And I think, you know -- you know, I think it's very difficult to measure things like how enthused she is. I think her actions indicate how enthused she is.

I think she knows that it's important for this party to unite, because the choices are very clear between, you know, a party that is basically telling the American people, through John McCain, that everything is fine, that the economy is OK, when we know on the ground that people are hurting in ways that they haven't in a long time.

And she knows that we need a leader who's going to lay out a new vision and a new set of plans and policies that get us some health care, that get us out of this war, that rebuild our public education systems. And Barack Obama is the person who's talking that language in this election, and she knows that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There was some talk coming into this day of the convention that there wasn't enough red meat last night, not enough contrast drawn between your husband and John McCain. There's some sense that that may be changing tonight, there's more of that tonight. What's your sense of the right balance?

MICHELLE OBAMA: You know, this is a four-day convention. And, you know, I think that there is a balance that has to be drawn with, you know, talking about who the candidate is, talking about what Barack Obama stands for, and that tends to be Barack's approach to campaigning, period, particularly in this general election.

He is less concerned about trying to tear down his opponent and more concerned about laying out and having a real conversation about the issues that people are facing on the ground.

And I think that, you know, we get used to the red meat. And if you don't hand out the red meat, then somehow you're lacking. But politics doesn't have to just be about red meat.

And we're finding that the American people are tired of red meat. That doesn't fill them up. People are looking for answers, not just a good battle.

So Barack tends to tie his discussions, as we're seeing with this convention, around who he is and what he plans to do for the country. And I think we're going to see that rolling out as the convention days go forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Seventy days from here until the election.


Campaigning with family life

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you -- I mean, broadly, how do you see your role? And how do you view -- do you look forward to this? Is it -- is it tension-producing?

MICHELLE OBAMA: You know, I try not to get too high or too low. I think my role is going to be the same. I've got a couple.

You know, I have to make sure that my girls are on point. And for many, September marks the beginning of general election season. But for families, it also marks the beginning of the school year. So I've got to make sure that my kids have their books, and they've got their lockers, and, you know, they've got -- they're on a path.

So I'm going to be on the road in swing states and some critical states, and many of them close to home, so I can still do day trips and get back home.

And I'm going to spend a lot of time talking about Barack and why I think he will make a good leader, answering questions, touching people, hearing their stories.

We're going to continue to do these women's roundtables that I've been doing, where I'm hearing from working women primarily who are not making it with the level of resources that we're providing. And I'm expanding those conversations to military spouses, as well.

So I'll continue to do that over the next couple of months.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it's a sprint to the finish.

MICHELLE OBAMA: It's a sprint. Thank you so much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you very much, Michelle Obama, for talking with us. We appreciate it. Good to see you.

MICHELLE OBAMA: All right. Take care.

JIM LEHRER: OK, Mark and David, a quick reaction to Michelle Obama 24 hours later.

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: She's pretty good in that interview, even the little things. When you -- how do you think you did? "It was a solid speech." It wasn't, "I'm a great speech." It wasn't false modesty. It was pretty straightforward. She's an impressive person.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Yes, I mean, I think the convention has been better for her than for anybody so far. I mean, not that it's done anything -- she's done it all herself, but we're talking about re-introducing her husband, Judy asked her.

I mean, she's been re-introduced, and she was the subject of a lot of criticism, her remark in Wisconsin about the first time she was proud of America was jumped on and repeated increasingly by right-wing radio and became big on the Internet.

And I think she put that to rest and showed an entirely fuller and deeper portrait of herself.

JIM LEHRER: All right.