IOWA CITY — First lady Michelle Obama tried to give Democrats a boost in a key U.S. Senate race Tuesday, urging college students in Iowa to vote early for Bruce Braley.
Mrs. Obama urged supporters at the University of Iowa to vote at a campus polling location that was open Tuesday and spend the next two weeks volunteering for Braley, who is in a tight race against Republican Joni Ernst.
Braley, a four-term congressman, had once been a favorite to win the seat held for 30 years by retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, one of his mentors. But now he’s running even with Ernst, a first-term state senator and commander in the Iowa National Guard, after a turbulent campaign. The race will help decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.
Mrs. Obama said it would be up to younger voters to “step up” and help deliver the state for Braley, as they did for her husband Barack Obama during his presidential campaigns of 2008 and 2012.
“For just three hours of your time, you will get six years of an outstanding senator who will carry on Tom Harkin’s legacy,” Mrs. Obama said. “If we all keep stepping up and bringing others along with us, I know we can elect Bruce Braley as the next senator from Iowa.”
She said students should take anyone they know to the polls with them, joking, “Bring the folks you met at the party last weekend!”
The first lady was set to appear later in the day in Minnesota with Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton, Democrats who are both seeking re-election.
The stop in Iowa City was Mrs. Obama’s second event for Braley this month meant to energize college students. This time, she pronounced his name correctly.
Mrs. Obama had repeatedly referred to Braley as “Bruce Bailey” during the earlier speech at Drake University in Des Moines, making her the target of late-night comedians. She made light of the gaffe at the beginning of her 20-minute speech Tuesday.
“Let me say that one more time: Bruce Braley,” she said, as the crowd in the Iowa Memorial Union laughed.
“Talk to Malia and Sasha: I never call them the right names,” she said, referring to her daughters. She joked that she sometimes calls her husband “Bo,” their dog’s name.
The Republican Party of Iowa had fun with the mistake Tuesday, launching the web site VoteBruceBailey.com, which redirected visitors to Ernst’s campaign site. The party also used the appearance to link Braley to the president, whose popularity has tumbled in the state that helped launch his presidency with a 2008 victory in the caucuses.
But Mrs. Obama defended her husband’s record. She said he had helped turn around a struggling economy, expanded financial aid for students and signed health care reform that allows people to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.
“For anybody that tells you elections don’t matter, I want you to tell them to look back at the last six years,” she said. “Talk about those two elections and how they changed the course of history in this country.”