Last Updated on July 22, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1174
Michelle remembers the constant movement of the campaign, describing Barack as “a kind of human blur.” On February 10, 2007, Barack stood before a podium in the freezing weather to announce his candidacy. Michelle was apprehensive as she led Malia and Sasha onto the stage, but she lost her fear as soon as she stepped out and suddenly viewed the crowd. Fifteen thousand people had come out to cheer on Barack, and Michelle now saw each of those people as the Obamas’ responsibility. They came out for the Obamas, and the Obamas would not fail them. Michelle was in complete support of Barack.
Life changed quickly. Barack was in competition with the popular Hillary Clinton. He and Michelle both needed to campaign, although they rarely did so together. Michelle was allotted money to hire staff, and she hired Melissa Winter, who later became her Chief of Staff, and Katie McCormick Lelyveld as her Communications Director. Michelle knew she played a significant role in the campaign, and her only stipulation was that she would be home at night for the children.
She traveled quite frequently to Iowa, a priority state for candidates, where she felt quite comfortable with people. With no script or understanding of exactly what she was supposed to do, Michelle decided to simply speak from her heart. She told people about her early life, how she met Barack, and what kind of person he was. When people hugged her, she was comfortable hugging them back.
It was Malia who brought about Michelle’s interest in health and nutrition. A doctor warned Michelle that Malia’s body mass index was high, which might put her in danger of obesity, high blood pressure, or other serious health issues later on in her life. Michelle was shocked: she’d thought she was doing everything right to care for her daughters, but she hadn’t realized that they’d fallen into some bad habits, such as eating out frequently and picking up fast food takeout. The ever-busy family needed to fit in time to prepare healthy meals; the only way to do that was to hire a cook. She hired Sam Kass, who not only cooked for the family, but also taught them about healthy food options.
Her constant campaigning caused Michelle to become a known personality, which also opened the door to criticism. She faced journalists who called her a “princess” or suggested that her promotions were a result of Barack’s influence. Hateful rumors about Barack also circulated; despite being unfounded, these rumors hurt the entire family. Michelle took comfort in the facts that Secret Service agents shadowed Barack and an agent had been assigned to the Obama home.
Michelle and Barack concentrated their campaigning efforts on Iowa, a state they knew was important to any election. The Obamas and many of their friends and family supported Barack at the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines, several weeks ahead of the Iowa caucus. It was typically an important dinner that gave the Democratic candidates a chance to speak from the heart, without notes. The candidates used their speech time to criticize their opponents. Barack, who spoke last, merely said that he did not want people to take sides and fight the same fights of the past. He wanted change, and he declared, “America, our moment is now.”
It was that speech that propelled Barack to win the Iowa caucus, a feat that most had thought was impossible. Michelle finally began to see his vision—change was possible.
Campaigning now was “like having your soul X-rayed every day,” according to Michelle. The press followed Barack’s every move, scrutinizing every word, every action, every gesture. Michelle took a leave of absence from her job, recognizing that her every moment would now be consumed.
On the Fourth of July, the family and their Secret Service flew to Butte, Montana to join Barack. It was Malia’s tenth birthday, and they knew he would never be able to leave to join them. They intended to celebrate Malia quietly while celebrating the country’s independence with everyone. However, when they arrived, they saw signs wishing her a happy birthday. People wanted to talk to them, huge crowds came out for a picnic, and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Malia.
Barack and Michelle had a small party for Malia at the end of the day, both feeling that they had failed as parents to give their daughter a happy party. However, Malia’s perception was quite different; to her it was “the best birthday ever.”
Michelle continued to draw large crowds at her speeches, always speaking from her heart. Many journalists criticized her—some even twisted her words so that it seemed she hated America. It was difficult to endure the insults, which also became personal. One commentator called her “Obama’s Baby Mama,” and another suggested that in college she had been connected to Black radicals. Michelle questioned whether she was helping or hurting the campaign, but Barack reassured her. He said that she was a great asset to the campaign but that if she wanted to stop, he would understand.
She persisted and pored through videotapes of her speeches with Barack’s campaign strategist to identify what she might change. She noticed that she spoke with intensity and feared that her seriousness might be misconstrued as anger. Determined to change this, Michelle worked with a communications specialist to fine-tune her speeches. She began to enjoy her appearances even more. She felt humbled by the people she met on the campaign trail, and she longed to help them.
The day before the election, Barack’s grandmother passed away. He had left the campaign trail briefly to visit her before she died. Having lost his mother prior to an election before, Barack felt it was important to see his grandmother. Michelle lamented that the people who had raised him did not get to see his greatest success. She told her husband how proud of him she was; inside, she knew he carried a great weight on his shoulders.
On election day, November 4, 2008, Michelle and Barack cast their votes and waited the long day for the results. Craig and Barack played basketball, Barack’s favorite pastime to relieve stress. Friends and family visited to make small talk. At night, they went downtown to a suite at the Hyatt Regency to await the election results.
As each state’s results came in, the incredible importance of the night became clearer. Thousands of people had gathered at Grant Park, where Barack would make a speech—either a concession or an acceptance.
At ten o’clock, Barack was declared the forty-fourth President of the United States.
The rest of the night was a blur to Michelle. She recalls that they were swept away by Secret Service agents to the park. Barack delivered his speech, although she cannot remember most of it; bullet-proof glass surrounded the stage; the crowd was euphoric; and Michelle felt calm, standing with Malia and Sasha on stage.