Female Granite State Democrats Echo First Lady’s Sentiments
By Mary Helen Gillespie
MANCHESTER – An emotional Michelle Obama delivered a passionate tirade on Thursday against Donald J. Trump’s admissions of sexual misconduct instead of her standard campaign speech for Democratic nominee Hillary R. Clinton.
The audience — mothers and daughters, college sorority sisters, reproductive rights activists – relished the first lady’s eloquent support of an America where human rights as well as women’s rights prevail from the White House to their house.
In doing so, Obama did not mention the name of the Republican candidate for president, referring to him only in the third-person.
“A candidate for president of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women. And I have to tell you…I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to the core,” Obama said, her voice at times quivering.
She spoke during a standing-room-only rally for Clinton held at the Southern New Hampshire University. But the 2,000-member audience, mostly females ranging in age from 2 months old to octogenarians, knew exactly who the first lady was referencing when she described his “hurtful, hateful language about women” as shocking and demeaning.
Obama, whose body language mirrored the tension in her voice, said she felt it would be disingenuous for her to ignore the revelations of the last week by giving her usual campaign speech in support of Clinton and Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
“It now seems very clear this is not an isolated incident,” the first lady said, labeling Trump’s comments shameful and obscene.
“It is cruel, and the truth is, it hurts,” Obama said to mounting applause and cheers. “New Hampshire, this is not normal. This is disgraceful. No woman deserves to be treated this way. It is basic human decency.”
With the Nov. 8 general election 28 days away, polls show Clinton edging out Trump in the Granite State but with a margin of error that could swing the results either way. Obama and N.H. Democrats — U.S. Senate hopeful Gov. Maggie Hassan, incumbent U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, former U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern – all urged the crowd to ring doorbells, staff phones and carry signs to ensure Clinton wins the state’s four electoral votes.
Women, especially suburban residents, first-time voters and members of minorities, are seen as key constituents not only for a Clinton victory but for Democrats to reclaim majorities in both houses of Congress. With Clinton in San Francisco Thursday for a fund-raiser, Trump battled additional allegations of inappropriate touching, calling the claims false. In what’s being decried as the nastiest, gnarliest presidential campaign in American history, women appear to be increasingly less impressed with a candidate’s gender and more concerned with ethics and values.
The New Hampshire audience, which included Planned Parenthood supporters in bright pink T-shirts, college students in jeans and middle-aged housewives in pearl earrings, roared in unison with Obama when she spoke the now-iconic sentence she first uttered at the Democratic National Convention in response to Republican jabs: “When they go low, we go high.”
Claire Packard, 84, of Enfield, woke up at 5 a.m. to attend the event, her first political rally. Her daughters Terri Tucker, 58, and Donna Packard, 61, joined her. Their early rising was well worth the effort, Claire Packard said.
“I loved it, it was better than TV,” she said, as her daughters nodded in agreement. “Michelle Obama’s awesome, she has class,’’ Tucker said.
Anne Fenn, 63, of Londonderry praised the first lady’s tactic of not mentioning Trump by name, saying it shows Obama speaks “with her heart and her intellect.”
“She didn’t want to give him any recognition or acknowledgement. He doesn’t deserve it,” said Fenn, who started her career as a political activist campaigning for John F. Kennedy when she was six years old. “I just never stopped.”
Kasey Salter will be voting in her first presidential election next month, and the 18-year-old SHNU freshman from East Hampstead, N.H., said she attended the rally to see for herself why Obama was supporting Clinton.
“I think I will vote for Hillary Clinton because while I don’t completely agree with everything she stands for, I do think everyone demands respect which Donald Trump has shown he’s unable to give,” the fashion-merchandising major said.
The lines started forming early outside the SNHU Athletic Complex, and soon snaked around the facility, up and down its hilly driveway. Lisa Costa, 56, of Andover stood patiently under cloudy gray skies for the doors to open. “It will be good to have something to listen to rather than all the sleaze on the other side,” she said.
Inside the media area, international and local journalists set up cameras and laptops while constantly checking their mobile phones for updates along the campaign trail. Jim Cole of the Associated Press has covered New Hampshire politics for 35 years. He described this election cycle to a student journalist as a “really long road,’ adding “I’ve not seen anything like this before.”
Two-year-old Ahmee Choi kept skipping under the media rope to wave her American flag and twirl her blue-sparkled skirt, much to the delight of the press and security details. While Obama did not reference the Republican candidate by name, Ahmee’s mother, Jonetta Choi, 37, did not mince words when asked why she made the trip from Northboro, Mass., with Ahmee and two-month-old Yumi in tow.
“Trump. He brought me here today,” Choi said, then offered Ahmee a bottle of juice to curb her sparkling twirls.
Matthew Krajcik and Ericka Broderick contributed to this report. They are student journalists participating in Southern New Hampshire University’s Election Pop-Up Newsroom Project. Mary Helen Gillespie is a freelance journalist and visiting lecturer in communications at Southern New Hampshire University.