In the first episode in a series the White House is marketing as “Day in the Life” visits ahead of the midterm elections in November, President Obama spent part of Thursday with a mother who had written to him about her struggles.
In a working-class neighborhood of Corcoran, Minn., the president shed his suit jacket and ducked into Matt’s Bar, a dimly lit restaurant, for lunch with Rebekah Erler, a 36-year-old accountant and a mother of two pre-school-age boys. Ms. Erler sent him a letter in March about her financial troubles.
Over a hamburger known as the Jucy Lucy — a meat patty with melted cheese in the middle — and later at a town hall-style meeting here, Mr. Obama held up Ms. Erler as an example of the difficulties families face, and as the kind of person who could be helped by his initiatives.
“You’re the reason I ran for office,” Mr. Obama told his lunch companion, as he described their conversation later at the meeting that drew about 350 people in Minnehaha Park. “I don’t want you to think that I’m not fighting for you.”
For all the effort to reach ordinary Americans, Mr. Obama’s day had the feel of a campaign tour, choreographed by the White House for vibrant pictures of the president engaging with regular people, his shirt sleeves rolled up. At the meeting after the lunch, the president even wrapped up with what sounded like a new slogan. “Cynicism is popular these days, but hope’s better,” he said.
Ms. Erler’s letter was one of the 10 Mr. Obama gets each day in his briefing book as part of an effort to expose him to a cross section of what Americans are experiencing. Hers stuck out, White House officials said, because it touched on the range of challenges weighing on working people in the midst of an economic recovery that has left millions of Americans behind.
“We just want to be able to pay for our kids’ day care, pay for our house, feed our kids some fresh food,” Ms. Erler said she told the president. Mr. Obama asked about the details of her family’s experience, she said, adding, “I feel like I got the chance to start a conversation about what a lot of the people I know are going through.”
In featuring Ms. Erler — whose husband lost his construction company during the economic downturn, and who borrowed to finance her own retraining at a community college — the president was making the case for his own agenda, including raising the minimum wage and helping people refinance their student loans. He was also targeting Republicans, whose opposition has blocked action on those items in Congress.
SOURCE: JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
The New York Times