ASPEN - First lady Michelle Obama kicked off her shoes to hobnob with well-heeled supporters in Aspen on Tuesday.
Obama visited Aspen to raise campaign funds for her husband's 2012 presidential re-election bid and the Democratic National Committee. People who contributed at least $1,000 got to attend a luncheon and listen to Obama's speech at the home of Jim and Paula Crown. Those who donated $10,000 per couple got an even more exclusive lunch and picture opportunity with Obama. About 150 people attended, according to organizers.
Obama captivated them with a 28-minute presentation, but it was after her formal speech that she cemented her reputation as a warm person who likes to mingle with people. She emerged from behind a podium and talked with audience members while walking around barefoot in the grass of the Crowns' lawn.
Obama flew into Aspen in the early afternoon after a similar fundraiser in Utah. The Crowns are longtime Barack Obama supporters. His presidential campaign office recently released a list of top "bundlers" or campaign fundraisers that showed Crown had raised between $50,000 to $100,000 so far for Obama's 2012 bid. That amount surged Tuesday.
Jim and Paula Crown are part of the Lester Crown family dynasty in Chicago. Their local holdings include the Aspen Skiing Co. and The Little Nell hotel. The five-star, five-diamond, hotel-catered lunch at the Obama event featured locally grown foods.
After lunch, the event moved to a tent erected in the Crowns' yard as a drizzle fell. Paula Crown introduced Michelle Obama. She noted President Obama's accomplishments and credited Michelle Obama for being an effective advocate for special causes like health and children's education.
Obama took the stage at about 2:45 p.m. and said she and her husband consider the Crowns friends as much as political supporters. During the heart of her speech, Obama stuck to the themes she has used in other recent campaign stops.
She touted her husband's accomplishments, highlighting that he took over an economy "on the brink of collapse" and nurtured it into "one starting to grow again."
The audience, the majority of which was female, broke into the first applause during her speech when she noted that her husband's administration is working to help women get equal pay for equal work.
The crowd cheered again seconds later, when Michelle Obama noted her husband's accomplishments in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "Thanks to the tireless work of our intelligence and counterterrorism communities, and the heroic efforts of our troops, the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts has finally been brought to justice. And that happened under this administration," she said.
After noting other accomplishments by the president, Obama appealed to the audience for funding and help in the campaign.
"We have made significant changes [since 2008] and we should be very proud of what we accomplished, but we should never be satisfied because we know we still have a lot of work to do," she said. "We know there are too many kids in this country that don't have what they need to succeed. We know there are too many people still struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
"The truth is that all those folks we campaigned for and we won for, that we've been fighting for these past two and a half years, those folks still need our help," she continued. "And that, more than anything else, is what drives my husband as president."
Her presentation was well-received by a mostly attentive crowd. One elderly gentleman had his eyes closed and appeared to nod off. A woman's cell phone ring tone to Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" went off about 25 minutes into Obama's presentation and the owner scrambled to turn it off quickly. And at one point, the audience didn't respond with the applause that Obama apparently was anticipating, and she urged acknowledgment of the effort of U.S. troops.
Obama closed out her 28-minute speech with a trademark rally cry: "I have one question for you. Are you in? Are you all ready for this?" she said to loud applause. "I can't tell. Are you ready for this? I hope you are all fired up, because I certainly am."
Audience member and Roaring Fork Valley artist Charmaine Locke didn't need extra motivation. She said when reached at her home last night that she admires what both Obamas have accomplished in a short period. She said she shares Michelle Obama's interests in such causes as children's education and veterans' issues. And she likes the way the first lady conducts herself.
"She's very energetic, focused and down to earth," Locke said.
She appreciated that Obama stuck to a "very positive" tone that focused on her husband's accomplishments. Locke said she is eager to help get President Obama re-elected.
"I was definitely active on the last campaign and I will be again," she said. "I'm there."
Audience member Laura Lauder was also inspired, though surprised, with one aspect of the speech.
"We were surprised she didn't mention the debt ceiling. Having said that, she doesn't want to be partisan, I suppose," Lauder said. "But at the end of the day, she has a presence and an elegance and a stature that is extraordinary. It really exemplifies the best in American women."
Several Democratic state senators and representatives from Colorado attended without having to make a contribution. State Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said the actions of both Obamas inspired her to get involved in community service and to "continue to fight the good fight." At age 30, she is the youngest member of the Statehouse.
"I wanted to come and see Michelle because to me she just represents so much of the ideals, what I believe in and where I think we need to continue to go with our country," Duran said.
Obama mingled with audience members for roughly 15 minutes after finishing her speech. Many surrounded her, exchanging a brief word and getting their pictures taken with her. Obama told the rapt audience that she looked forward to seeing them on the campaign trail.