COLLIER COUNTY — Michelle Obama’s visit Friday to Collier County sent one message: The president needs Southwest Florida’s support.
The first lady made a whirlwind three-hour, three-stop tour, where she chatted with school children, rallied campaign volunteers and dazzled donors.
Her main objective though: Drum up support for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
“We all know this is not about one extraordinary man. It has always been about all of us,” she said during a private fundraiser at the Inn on Fifth, 699 Fifth Ave. S. “This is going to be long. It’s going to be hard, and there’s going to be some bumps along the way. (But) it’s time to get moving. It’s time for us to get to work.”
Michelle Obama’s plane touched down at Naples Municipal Airport just before 3:20 p.m. She stepped out of the plane in a bright red dress and pearls, and immediately bent down to shake the hands of Collier students Malik Gayo, 12, and Emma Bissell, 11.
The two were among 18 Mike Davis and Avalon elementary school students who welcomed the first lady. The schools received the honor because of their participation in the state’s Farm to School program.
Malik, a fifth-grade student at Mike Davis Elementary, nervously waited on the tarmac. But he said all of his “butterflies went away” when she bent over and hugged him.
“She acts like she’s your friend,” he said.
The first lady spoke to the students for about 10 minutes. She asked them about their favorite subjects, sports, and special running and nutrition programs at the elementary schools.
Malik said he’ll never forget the experience.
“It’s someone’s dream to meet her,” he said.
A crowd of campaign volunteers and supporters realized that dream around 4 p.m. at the Golden Gate Community Center. The first lady spent about 25 minutes on stage speaking about her husband’s policies — including public education, job creation, health care reform and retirement benefits — and encouraging volunteers to register voters and get out the vote.
“This all could come down to those last few thousand people we register to vote,” she told the crowd of approximately 200. “It might mean just one more person. That one person could be the one.”
After the speech, Golden Gate resident James McDonald, 64, said he has supported Michelle Obama from the minute she moved in to the White House.
“Before Barack was inaugurated ... I said ‘I’m so proud that he’s our president, but I’m just as proud of the fact that she’s our first lady,’” he said.
McDonald said Michelle Obama proved Friday she “was a lady with a lot of passion and love for the country.”
While supporters and volunteers got a chance to see Obama at the community center, not everyone was as lucky. Obama’s event on Fifth Avenue South was private. Dozens of people who lined the streets failed to catch a glimpse of her.
“I was really disappointed,” said Judy McCaffery, a 68-year-old Massachusetts resident, who saw the motorcade but not Obama. “I’m really surprised she didn’t make an appearance. She’s such a people person.”
Elaine Albert and her two children may have been the most disappointed. Albert left Haiti in 1998 and moved to Naples. On Friday, she was determined to hand Obama a letter written by her 12-year-old son David Forest.
“I need her to help me. I’m not working, my husband doesn’t have a job. I have five children,” she said. “I don’t care if I talk to her. I just want to hand her the letter.”
That didn’t happen: Obama arrived at the hotel around 5 p.m. and entered through the back entrance without greeting supporters.
Inside a crowd of about 200 supporters, who paid $1,000 and up, heard Obama speak about her husband’s achievements.
Obama said the choice Southwest Floridians have in November is a simple, yet important, one.
“The choice will determine nothing less than who we are as a country, and more importantly who we want to be,” she said. “Will we tell folks who did everything right ... but are struggling tough luck, or will we say we’re all in this together? We know what we need to do, we need to keep moving forward.”
Obama spoke for about 25 minutes during the fundraiser and rushed off to the airport, leaving almost exactly three hours after her arrival.
Even though Southwest Floridians only saw her for a few hours, her final remarks of the day asked supporters to look into the future and help.
“The vision we have,” she said, “belongs to all of us.”