Democratic nominees Barack Obama and Joe Biden got a rousing endorsement Wednesday at the University of Virginia from the women who know them best — their wives, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.
“Their leadership, their policies are the kind of policies we need in the White House right now. Not later. Right now,” Obama told a crowd of 2,500 cheering U.Va. students and area residents. “But you know what, we’ve got to send them there first.”
Barack Obama, his wife said, supports tax cuts for 90 percent of Americans, equal pay for equal work for women, expanded access to affordable health care, a realistic long-term energy policy that would end the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, lower college tuition, and a safe and responsible withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. These goals, she said, are what matter most to American families. Her husband, she said, will get them accomplished.
“We can build a better future for our families and our communities,” she said. “We can do that. What we do on Nov. 4 can change the world. You realize that.”
American families are struggling to pay for high gas and food prices, as well as rising college tuition rates, she said. The Obama family, she added, only recently managed to pay off their student loan debt, and only because Barack Obama’s two books became bestsellers.
“Shouldn’t we have leaders who ‘get it?’ That understand what’s going on on the ground?” she asked. “Let me tell you, Barack Obama gets it. Joe Biden gets it.”
The Charlottesville campaign stop for the Democratic first lady contender came after an economic roundtable held earlier Wednesday in Richmond. At that event, the Obama-Biden ticket was endorsed by Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama grandmother whose ultimately unsuccessful fight for equal pay with men took her to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ledbetter, who also spoke at the U.Va. rally, worked for 30 years at a Goodyear plant in Alabama before an anonymous note proved that she was being paid substantially less than her male co-workers.
The Supreme Court rejected her claim for equal pay in a 5-4 decision because the court’s majority said she should have filed a complaint within 180 days after her first paycheck she received that was less than her male co-workers who performed similar duties. Ledbetter, she said, had no way of knowing that discrimination had occurred until years later because Goodyear kept its payroll confidential.
“My story could be anyone’s story. It could be yours,” Ledbetter told the crowd, gathered at a plaza outside U.Va.’s Newcomb Hall. “What happened shows what can happen when America’s ideals of equality and fairness are betrayed.”
Sens. Obama and Biden were co-sponsors of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would make it easier for women and others to sue their employers for discriminatory wages. Republican Sen. John McCain, the GOP nominee for president, has said he opposes the measure.
Senate Republicans derailed the bill in April, though it is expected to be re-introduced this fall.
In an introduction of Ledbetter, Jill Biden pointed out that women are paid an average of 77 cents on the dollar compared with men. Black women, she added, earn only 62 cents on the dollar and Latina women earn only 53 cents on the dollar compared with men.
“Equal pay is not just a women’s issue,” Biden said. “It’s a family issue.”
Wednesday’s Obama-Biden rally aimed to sway undecided U.Va. voters and encourage more people to register to vote. The deadline to register in Virginia is Oct. 6.
The commonwealth, the speakers said, could play a pivotal role in determining who wins the presidency Nov. 4.
“Virginia is critical,” Obama said. “It’s what they call a swing state. And we want it swinging this way.”
In a move that coincided with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s visit to Virginia, McCain’s campaign released a statement from Susan Allen, wife of former Sen. George Allen and the Virginia chairwoman of Women for McCain-Palin. The GOP ticket, she said, would do more for women than would Obama and Biden.
“John McCain and Sarah Palin have energized women across the commonwealth of Virginia because they are proven leaders and effective reformers,” she said in the statement. “They understand issues that are critical to women voters, including eliminating waste in the federal budget, lowering taxes, finding solutions to skyrocketing gas prices and keeping our families safe on the home front.”
At Wednesday’s rally at U.Va., most of the people in the crowd appeared to be ardent supporters of the Obama-Biden ticket. One such Obama fan was Laura Waters, a 20-year-old U.Va. student from McLean who said she has been inspired by Obama’s campaign.
“He’s interesting to most people because he has a different message,” she said. “He’s different and new and exciting.”
U.Va. student John Sweeney, 21, however, tried to attend Obama’s rally with a John McCain bumper sticker attached to his polo shirt. Obama’s campaign staffers made him remove it, saying signs were not permitted.
“Apparently a bumper sticker constitutes a sign. And they said there are no signs allowed at the event,” he said. “Frankly, I wanted to see if they would let me in with a McCain sticker on my shirt. I got my answer.”
During Obama’s speech, it should be noted, there were dozens of pro-Obama signs throughout the crowd, including ones that said “Virginia Needs Obama,” “Si Se Puede,” “Smart Moms for Obama” and big white letters that spelled out “CHANGE.”
Brian McNeill is a staff writer at the Daily Progress in Charlottesville.