First lady touts her husband's record on economy

BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press Published:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- First lady Michelle Obama praised her husband's stewardship of the economy and his signature federal health-care law as she raised campaign cash Thursday in a state that has given President Barack Obama the cold shoulder in past elections.

Addressing more than 1,000 supporters at a fundraiser in Louisville, Mrs. Obama said her husband understands the hardships lingering from the recession he inherited. But she pointed to a string of upbeat economic reports in touting her husband's record as he seeks a second term against a yet-to-be-determined Republican opponent in November.

"We have had 23 straight months of private sector job growth and unemployment is now the lowest it has been in three years," she said. "But we know that we still have a long way to go, we have a lot of work to do."

Hiring has picked up nationally in recent months. The economy added 243,000 net jobs in January, the most in nine months. The unemployment rate dropped for the fifth straight month, to 8.3 percent.

The crowd at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage expressed its support for the landmark health-care law as Mrs. Obama noted that Republicans have pledged to rescind it.

"Are we going to stand by and let that happen," she asked to a chorus of "No's" from the crowd.

She noted that the law has resulted in lower out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses for the elderly, allows children to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26 and requires that pre-existing health conditions be covered.

Mrs. Obama also said her husband defended the country by bringing terror leader Osama bin Laden "to justice." She also said he kept his promise and brought the troops home from Iraq.

The cost to attend the fundraising event ranged from $100 to $2,500.

Dozens of people filled part of a blocked off street to wave and cheer as the first lady arrived by motorcade. Many lingered, hoping to get a glimpse of Mrs. Obama after her speech.

One man hawked Obama campaign buttons, while another sold hats and car flags promoting the president.

Belita Garnett, 49, who attended the fundraiser, said she has to look no farther than her own home to see a pickup in the economy. Her two sons recently landed fulltime jobs -- one at local utility company LG&E and the other with UPS.

She said one of her sons had been looking for work for two years and the other had been job hunting since graduating from the University of Kentucky last spring. She said Obama deserves credit for what she sees as an economic turnaround.

"Jobs are improving, the value of homes is improving, our economy is improving," Garnett said.

The hiring uptick still hasn't reached Doris Wilson's home. Wilson, 57, and her two daughters are jobless, but she's more hopeful than she has been of finding work. She said Obama has done a good job of fixing a damaged economy.

"It's going to take some time for him to work this out," she said. "I think he needs another four years to do that."

University of Kentucky political scientist Steve Voss said it's "extremely unlikely" that Obama can carry Kentucky in November, even though it appears that whoever wins the GOP presidential nomination "will come with some baggage."

The last Democrat to carry Kentucky in a presidential general election was Bill Clinton.

Obama was trounced both times he was on the ballot in the Bluegrass state in 2008.

Hillary Rodham Clinton got nearly two-thirds of the vote to a scant 30 percent for Obama in the state's Democratic primary. In November, Republican John McCain won Kentucky with 57 percent of the vote while Obama received 41 percent.

Even though their votes won't likely be enough to put Obama over the top in Kentucky, the donors will help the president make his case in battleground states that will determine the election in November, Voss said.

"If you're a frustrated Democrat in a state like Kentucky, donating is your one plausible way of ... making a difference in a campaign," he said. "You can vote with your money and try to make a difference in the places where the election is close."