In S.W. Philadelphia, they came to see 'Michelle'

Harvard lawyer. Corporate vice president. Political wife. Terrorist fist-bumper. Fashion icon. Mom.

Michelle Obama, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, has been given many handles during the campaign. But to the joyous residents of Southwest Philadelphia, who turned out yesterday to hear her speak outside Francis Meyer Recreation Center, she was simply Michelle.

"They just feel like real people," Timika Morton, 31, said of the Obamas. "They feel real to me."

Obama, accompanied by Jill Biden, wife of vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden, spoke to a crowd of more than 3,000 gathered at 58th Street and Kingsessing Avenue. Obama talked about her Chicago roots, her love for her family and the economic change that her husband is promising voters.

"Let me tell you something: Barack Obama gets it," she said. "We need leaders who get it, who understand that the pains Americans have been going through are real."

Michelle Obama, 44, is a Harvard-educated lawyer currently on leave from her $317,000-a-year job as a vice president of community affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center. The Obamas have two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.

Obama's appearance came amid a week of tumultuous news.

John McCain yesterday made a surprise announcement - calling for Friday's presidential debate to be postponed due to the economic crisis. He said that he would suspend his campaign and return to Washington to work on the problem. But Barack Obama said that he saw no reason to cancel the debate, arguing that voters need to hear from the candidates right now.

A new Washington Post-ABC News national poll released this week showed Obama leading McCain by 52 percent to 43 percent among likely voters.

Michelle Obama did not mention the debate argument or the latest polls during her remarks. But tough economic times were a theme she came back to again and again, referencing rising gas prices, the cost of health care and the burden of student loans.

"There's only one candidate, one team, who is talking about building an economic plan that's based around the middle class," she said.

Obama concluded by asking the audience to help register people to vote.

"You've got to reach out to people, especially folks who have never been involved," she said. "If we all commit to finding 10, 12 people, we can change our nation."

Mayor Nutter, who introduced Obama, drew huge cheers for his passionate rhetoric.

"I know something about strong, intelligent women," Nutter said. "I've got two of them in my house. But there's a new first lady. And she's going to be a national first lady."

In addition to her words, many audience members said that they appreciated that Obama had come to Southwest Philly.

"I think that says a lot," said Hope Johnson, 40, of Southwest Philadelphia. "This is where the change needs to take place. This is where people suffer." *