KEENE, N.H. -- According to Michelle Obama, she and her husband, Barack, are "regular" people.
Never mind for a moment that her husband is the junior senator from Illinois and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Never mind that just four years after rising from the relative obscurity of the Illinois State Senate, he is ahead in Iowa polls leading up to the state's Jan. 3 caucuses. Never mind that he is holding his own against one of the most talented husband-wife teams in modern Democratic politics.
To hear Michelle Obama tell it, "This is the last chance you'll have for regular. Regular."
There was nothing regular, however, about 200 Keene State College students, professors and area residents turning out to see the spouse of a presidential candidate -- or at least one who isn't also a former president. But there they were Wednesday afternoon, crammed into the fishbowl Lantern Dining Room at Keene State, chanting the familiar Obama campaign refrain, "Fired up! Ready to go!."
"If I could talk to every voter or if Barack could talk to every voter this would be a slam dunk, because I know people haven't seen this before," Michelle Obama told the crowd.
"We are new to politics in terms of just this approach -- how we talk, how we look, how we -- imagine having a president of the United States who is just two years out of college debt and understands that. Imagine that!"
Obama spent much of her time decrying the abundance of fear, divisiveness and meanness in the public discourse and reiterating her husband's campaign theme of providing hope and change.
"We've done fear," she said. "It doesn't work."
She also made light of her husband, scattering her remarks with a touch of humor in an attempt to humanize him.
"Life with Barack is an amazing thing. He's always doing something -- you know, always trying to run for something, thinking about the world, being very serious about life," she said. "I'm like, 'Lighten up. Go get some ice cream!'"
But the tone of her speech was, for the most part, quite serious.
"We are still living, in 2007, in a nation that is still way too divided. We are isolated from one another in some very fundamental ways. We are still a nation that is too cynical," Obama said.
"We're still a nation that is far too mean. ... We have mistaken meanness for toughness and that's not good. We don't treat each other well at a fundamental level. And we're also a nation that is too led by fear. We are afraid of everything and everyone."
Obama said this attitude has caused young people to become timid and hesitant -- to not believe they can achieve their dreams.
"I don't want that for my girls. I want my girls, who are precious -- they are precious and adorable and bright and open -- I want them to really be free, finally, to be free in this country, to reach and dream for whatever they can imagine. I don't want anybody telling them what they can't do," she said.
"I want them to be proud to live in this country. I want them to be able to travel the world with pride. And I don't want that just for my girls. I want that for all of you -- all of our children -- and we're not there. We're not there."
Obama spoke of her own upbringing, growing up on the south side of Chicago and working her way through the public school system to attend Princeton University. It has become harder and harder to achieve such dreams these days, she said -- with the cost of health care rising, the number of blue collar jobs dwindling and the quality of public education deteriorating.
"You all know how hard the hope of college has become," she said.
Her husband turned down lucrative job offers after graduating from Harvard Law School in order to become a community organizer in Chicago, she said, but taking a low-paying job when faced with greater college debt has become far less feasible.
"College has become out of reach and certain careers have become out of reach," she said.
Obama steered clear of addressing specific policy solutions to the problems she presented -- instead painting with a broad brush and asserting that her husband could solve those problems.
The audience, it seemed, agreed.
"He's definitely the best candidate who can bring about fundamental change in our country," said KSC student Eric Kane after Obama spoke.
"She'd get my vote," said Dexter Churchill of Keene.
"For every great man there's a great woman behind him," said Churchill's wife, June.
Suzanne Butcher, also of Keene, said, "She's amazing and he is amazing. ... Who he is will bring real, positive change to the country."