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Friday June 9th

First Lady Michelle Obama encouraged students to vote in her speech on Tuesday

Michelle Obama spoke to students and grassroots supporters in Carmichael Arena on Tuesday afternoon.
Buy Photos Michelle Obama spoke to students and grassroots supporters in Carmichael Arena on Tuesday afternoon.

With only 20 days to go before the Nov. 6 election, first lady Michelle Obama spoke Tuesday at UNC — mere months after her husband made his pitch to students on the same stage.

The first lady spoke at Carmichael Arena hours before President Barack Obama faced Mitt Romney in the second presidential debate.

Michelle Obama framed the election as a stark contrast between the two candidates.

“It’s a choice about our values and our hopes and our aspirations,” she said. “It’s a choice about the America we want to leave for our kids and grandkids.”

Lindsey Rietkerk, co-founder of Tar Heels for Obama, introduced the first lady.

“It was something else — an out-of-body experience,” Rietkerk said. “I got to meet with her backstage. She was really, really sweet.”

All who spoke at the event encouraged students to participate in early voting, which starts Thursday.

Former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt spoke before Michelle Obama and stressed how close the election was four years ago — and that it might be even closer this year.

“This isn’t the year to take a pass or stay home,” he said. “This is the year to make your voices heard.”

The president carried the state in 2008 by about 14,000 votes — roughly five votes a precinct, the first lady said.

“That could just be one vote in your neighborhood. Just a single vote in your apartment building, in a college dorm building,” she said. “Just one person here today could swing a precinct.”

She drew applause as she listed the president’s accomplishments this term.

“In addition to being a job creator, your president has gotten a few other things done,” Michelle Obama said, mentioning the extension of health care coverage and his advocacy for lower interest rates on student loans.

She said she and her husband only just finished paying off their student loans, which were higher than their mortgage payment at one point.

“When it comes to student debt, believe me — Barack and I, we’ve been there,” she said.

UNC Young Democrats President Austin Gilmore said he thought the speech would drive students to vote.

“Her speech was aimed at us,” he said. “It was definitely a call to arms.”

U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., said in an interview that get-out-the-vote efforts are crucial this fall.

“We know it could go either way,” he said. “The side that has worked harder in registering people, the side that works harder in turning out the vote — that really might make the difference in an essentially tied situation.”

About 5,700 people attended Obama’s speech. The arena was full to capacity — about 8,000 people — when the president spoke in April.

Despite the smaller attendance numbers, students were largely enthusiastic.

“I mean, of course you’d rather see the president of the United States, but you know. She was great too,” said freshman Kelsey Williams. “I can’t complain.”

Sophomore Chandler Fry said the first lady was terrific.

“She’s very energetic, she knows how to get the crowd fired up,” he said. “I really enjoyed it. I hope her husband will come back some time.”

Daniel Wiser and Chris Xavier contributed reporting.

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