Pool report from the First Lady’s Berkeley event

Here’s the raw feed I just sent to the White House; I’ll file a more polished story later.

About 250 attended the event at the Claremont Hotel, having paid anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 to get in. The menu, prepared by the staff of famed chef Alice Waters, included blood orange and tangerine juice, organic coffees and black tea; cherries, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries with yogurt and honey; baked farm eggs with fresh morels, asparagus vinaigrette and grilled whole wheat toast; and wild fennel biscotti, jam thumbprints and lemon verbena tisane.

The First Lady was introduced by Rep. Bar bara Lee, D-Calif., in whose district the event was held. Lee noted her 9th Congressional District gave President Obama his best returns of any California district in the 2008 primary and general, and is “fired up to lead the way again in 2012.”

The First Lady entered to a standing ovation at 10:21 a.m., wearing a short, cream-colored sweater over a white dress and pearls.

“It is a pleasure, it is a thrill to be with all of you this morning,” she said, thanking Lee not only for the introduction but for being “a real friend to me in Washington … Barbara is always focused on her base, she is always fighting tooth and nail to do the right thing.”

She also thanked Waters for the breakfast, although “they don’t let me eat at these things,” and local officials, national campaign finance committee members and the whole audience.

“I’m thrilled to see so many new faces, and that’s always a good thing in round two,” she said.

“As we look ahead to the next part of this journey, I can’t help but thing back to how it all began,” she said, noting that at first she wasn’t thrilled with her husband’s presidential aspirations because of her own cynicism about politics and the disruption a campaign could cause her daughters’ lives. “It took some convincing on Barack’s part, and by some, I mean a lot.”

But in their first few months on the campaign trail, she said, she started to realize “it wasn’t just about handshakes and stump speeches” but rather about meeting and hearing from people in their own homes and communities. At one early event in Iowa, “I was so comfortable that I kicked off my shoes – I was wearing high heels – and I stood barefoot in the grass and felt as comfortable as in my own backyard.”

Everywhere they heard stories about struggles to meet mortgage payments, veterans returning from war, youths with good grades but not enough money for college. “These stories moved me, and even more than that, these stories were familiar to me,” she said, leading her to think about how her and her husband’s parents and grandparents struggled to provide better lives for them.

She said these people on the campaign trail weren’t asking for much, she said, just access to a doctor when sick, a good public education and access to college, decent wages, and a secure retirement that might include being able to leave a better life for their kids. Suddenly everything her husband had been saying about interconnection, about there not being any “red” or “blue” states, was no longer just lines in a speech.

The campaign’s supporters’ energized her, especially those who rallied around this historic first African-American nominee. “They took that chance to put their emotions on the line again.”

The First Lady then launched into a review of what the president “has been doing to help all of us win the future” during his first term. She said he moved the nation from an economy on the brink of collapse to one that’s starting to grow again, cutting taxes for the middle class and protecting consumers from predatory creditors. Healthcare reform, she said, means “millions of folks will finally be able to afford a doctor,” not worry about preexisting conditions, and be covered for preventative and prenatal care. And the President has set about reducing the deficit “by cutting back so we can start living within our means, and then starting to invest in the things that really matter” such as clean energy, scientific research including stem cells, community colleges, Pell Grants and the Race to the Top public education improvement initiative.

He also ended the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy so “our troops will never again have to lie about who they are,” she said, and appointed “two brilliant Supreme Court justices.” He has worked to “keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world,” responsibly ending the Iraq war – from which 100,000 troops already have been brought home – and ensuring that Obama bin Laden “has finally been brought to justice. That’s what this President did.”

She also talked about her own emphasis issues: curbing childhood obesity through proper nutrition, and publicizing the “courage and strength and pride” of military families… to make sure we serve them as well as they serve us.”

“We have made some significant changes these last couple of years and we should be proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we should never be satisfied,” she said.

She said she watches her husband reading people’s letters late at night after their daughters have gone to sleep. “I see the sadness and the worry creasing his face, I hear the passion and determination in his voice” as he says things still aren’t right and more must be done, she said. He remembers all these stories, she said, “this collection of hopes and dreams and struggles – this is where Barack gets his passion.”

That’s what politics should be about, she said – not about one person or one president, but about making positive changes in people’s lives.

“We need all of you to be with us for the next phase of this journey, and I’m not going to kid you – it’s going to be long, it’s going to be hard, and it’s supposed to be,” she said. But even when people (including herself) almost wish the President would lose his cool and fire back at his critics, she said, “Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal, he never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, he just keeps moving forward… He needs you to be with him in this for the long haul, he needs you to work like you’ve never worked before.”

“I do this because I’m a mother who wants my kids to have a legacy they can be proud of,” she said. “More importantly, I do it as a citizen who knows we can do amazing things together for this country.”

“If any child in this country is left behind, it matters to all of us, even if it’s not our son or daughter,” she continued. “In the end, we cannot separate our own story form the broader American story. Like it or not, we are all in this together and that’s a good thing, as it should be.”

“So I have one last question: Are you all in? Are you ready for this? Because I am,” she finished, bringing the crowd to its feet.

She finished speaking at 10:48 a.m. and worked the rope line for a few minutes before leaving the room. Guests as they exited were presented with chunks of a special bread that Waters worked out with ACME Bread owner Steven Sullivan: 100 percent organic California whole wheat grown near Kettleman City and stone-milled in Petaluma.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.