ORONO – First Lady Michelle Obama touted the health of the U.S. economy as she visited Maine on Friday to campaign on behalf of Democratic candidates at the University of Maine in Orono.
“I remember some of you were with us back when we were out in Iowa and New Hampshire talking about hope and change and getting all fired up and ready to go,” Obama told a packed crowd of students and Democratic supporters.
“Let’s go back for a moment, because I want you to remember how bad things were back then,” said Obama. “When Barack first stepped into office this country was in full blown crisis mode. Our economy was literally on the brink of collapse,” she said. “Wall Street banks were folding. Businesses were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Folks on TV and the news were panicking about whether we were heading for another Great Depression. And that wasn’t just talk, that was a real possibility.”
“Now I want to bring you to today,” she said. “By almost every economic measure, we are better off today then when Barack took office,” she said. “Our businesses have created more than 10 million new jobs since 2010. And that’s including the 236,000 jobs created just last month.”
“This is the longest uninterrupted run of private sector job growth in our nation’s history,” she said.
Obama joined Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards for the event to boost Democratic gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud and Second District Congressional candidate Sen. Emily Cain (D-Orono).
Recent polls show a competitive three-way gubernatorial race between Michaud, Republican Gov. Paul LePage, and independent Eliot Cutler. Michaud and LePage are statistically neck-in-neck, while Cutler trails both partisan candidates in support.
Michaud, who spoke just prior to Obama, touched on education, infrastructure, hiking the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid — a proposal he described as “fiscally responsible.”
“Our current governor will never, never be able to fix these problems because he’s too divisive, too wedded to his ideology, and too unwilling to listen to anyone who has the audacity to disagree with him,” said Michaud.
“The difference between me and governor LePage could not be clearer,” he said.
Michaud never mentioned Cutler by name but did insist he is the only candidate capable of defeating LePage.
On a somewhat unusual note, Michaud began his remarks with a vigorous “thank-you” for Richards.
“I want to particularly thank Cecile Richards,” Michaud said in his opening. “Her work and the work of Planned Parenthood is so important,” he said.
Not long ago Michaud would have been unlikely to share a stage with Richards. The long-time state legislator and six-term congressman from Maine’s Second District had established a record and reputation as a pro-life Democrat.
That pro-life streak showed as recently as 2009, when Michaud was among a group of Democratic Members of Congress who voted in favor of the so-called Stupak-Pitts amendment to the Affordable Care Act. That amendment prohibited the use of taxpayer funds for abortion under the ACA, also known as Obamacare.
In his gubernatorial campaign, however, Michaud has come out in favor of adding abortion to the list of taxpayer-funded services covered under Medicaid. According to his campaign, the Democrat has “evolved” on the issue of abortion.
The First Lady’s visit to the Pine Tree State comes on the heels of comments made by President Obama regarding what, in his opinion, is at stake in this year’s midterm elections. In a speech delivered to an audience at Northwestern University on Thursday, Obama focused on the economy, but some commentators said 28 words in his speech may have given fodder to Republican strategists and ad-makers across the country.
“I am not on the ballot this fall. Michelle’s pretty happy about that. But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot,” the president said. “Every single one of them.”
As Chris Cilliza of the Washington Post wrote: “Boil those four sentences down even further and here’s what you are left with: ‘Make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.'”
Those policies include popular ones like a proposed federal minimum wage hike, but also more controversial and divisive policies, such as amnesty for undocumented immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Turning November’s elections into a referendum on the president’s policies may prove unhelpful to Democrats’ political fortunes. In congressional races across the country, Democrats have sought to distance themselves from a president whose low approval ratings have made him more of a liability than an asset on the campaign trail.
In recent poll funded by the liberal-leaning Portland Press Herald, 51 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the president’s job performance while 44 percent approved. Perhaps a reflection of the president’s unpopularity in Maine, the Michaud campaign told Real Clear Politics that it had not invited Mr. Obama to campaign in Maine.
In the Second Congressional district, Cain faces Republican Bruce Poliquin, a former State Treasurer. The recent Press Herald poll showed Poliquin with a double-digit lead over Cain.
In the run up to First Lady’s visit, the Maine Republican Party linked Obama’s widely panned student health initiatives to a bill Cain sponsored in the state Legislature.
Obama has spearheaded unpopular changes to public school lunch menus as part of her broad campaign to combat childhood obesity. In a similar vein, Cain introduced a 2007 bill that would have tracked statewide obesity rates by weighing Maine students and reporting the data to the federal government.
“Both Michelle Obama and Emily Cain want the government to manage your children’s weight,” said David Sorensen, communications director for the Maine GOP.
Richards fit well with Cain, who has been endorsed by Emily’s List and several women’s advocacy groups. Cain has stressed women’s issues throughout her campaign, including access to abortion and support for the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act — a bill that both U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King (I) voted against.
Cain should have felt at home at UMO, her alma mater and long-time employer. Outside of her career in the Legislature, Cain worked for the University of Maine from 2004 to 2012. According to state payroll records, Cain started as a “Special Assistant for Presidential Events” in 2004. The following year she became the “Coordinator of Advancement” — a position she held until 2012.
Conspicuously absent from the stage Friday afternoon?
Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ Democratic challenger, Shenna Bellows.
According to a report in the Bangor Daily News, officials with Planned Parenthood contacted the Bellows campaign Thursday night and asked them to remove a false claim on their website that indicated Collins had voted to defund Planned Parenthood.
It’s unclear whether that scuffle had any relation to Bellows non-participation in Friday’s event. Maine Democrats reportedly attributed Bellows’ absence to a scheduling conflict.