HAMPTON, Va. - On a solo campaign swing Friday in closely divided Virginia, Michelle Obama presented her husband as the candidate of middle-class opportunity who "understands the American dream because he's lived it."
The first lady vouched for President Barack Obama on a day when battleground Virginia got a respite from visits from the big four: Obama and Joe Biden focused their personal efforts elsewhere, as did Republican challengers Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
That ends Saturday when Obama and Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman vying to be vice president, hold competing late-day rallies. Romney spent most of Thursday in Virginia and is set to return Sunday and Monday during the final days of all-out campaigning. The winner of Virginia gets 13 electoral votes toward the hunt for the 270 it takes to claim the White House.
Speaking at Hampton University, a historically black college not far from the Chesapeake Bay, Michelle Obama cited the administration's efforts to expand access to health care and college loans as part of a broader governing philosophy that economic inequality shouldn't have to hold people back.
"When you've done well and you've finally walked through that doorway of opportunity you don't slam it shut behind you. No you reach back and give others the same chances that helped you succeed," she said. "That is how Barack and I and so many of you were raised. More than anything else, that's what this election is about."
She said the president's Virginia supporters shouldn't take his solid 2008 victory in the state for granted. She said his comfortable 235,000-vote margin last time equates to a mere 100 votes per precinct as she implored the crowd to keep up the intensity through Tuesday night.
About 100 miles to the west, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell dropped in on a Republican call center to encourage volunteers to keep pressing Romney's case among independents. He hammered Obama over looming pullbacks in defense spending _ an issue that resonates in a state with a heavy military presence _ and said Obama has proven unable to reach across party lines.
"President Obama has created a toxic atmosphere of `We win, you lose' in Washington," McDonnell charged.
Obama's strength in southern Virginia helped him carry the state four years ago, something no Democratic nominee had done in 44 years. He's counting on pockets of votes around Hampton and Petersburg, where the first lady also was appearing, to drive his repeat bid. Obama appeared in Hampton in July.
Among the Virginia voters at the first lady's rally was Sheila Oliver-Smith, a 49 year-old caregiver looking for work. She said her personal economic struggles don't dampen her enthusiasm for Obama.
"My job is coming. If Obama stays in I think he's going to make sure I get one," Oliver-Smith said. "He's not the only one responsible for unemployment and all of this other stuff going on. He's doing all that he can."
Substitute teacher Zulene McCollough, 38, said there's no doubt she'll vote for Obama again despite handwringing she hears from Republicans over the slow- recovering economy.
"He's done an excellent job considering the opposition he's faced. If you're being fought tooth and nail on every decision, I thought he's done an exceptional job," she said.
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