CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — With three weeks until the presidential election, first lady Michelle Obama said Tuesday that America faces a stark choice when voters cast their ballots.
"That's what this election is all about. It's a choice about our values and our hopes and our aspirations," Obama told hundreds of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It's a choice about the America we want to leave for our kids and our grandkids."
President Barack Obama believes in schools that inspire students and prepare them for jobs of the future, his wife said. Likewise, she said, he believes that an illness shouldn't bankrupt a family, and a job loss shouldn't lead to a home foreclosure.
"In this America that we're building, when one of us stumbles – when one of us falls on tough times – we don't tell them, 'Tough luck. You're on your own,'" she said. "Instead, we extend a helping hand until they can get back on their feet."
Republican challenger Mitt Romney, on the other hand, wants to balance the budget by cutting "Sesame Street," Michelle Obama said. In a debate two weeks ago, Romney drew howls of protest by saying he would eliminate a federal subsidy to PBS stations, which air the children's show.
"Shortchanging our young people is not how we tackle the deficit," she said.
The stump speech was held in Carmichael Arena – the same place where President Obama spoke this spring to build support for getting Congress to extend low-interest student loans.
She encouraged students to vote early – she said she cast an absentee ballot on Monday for her husband – reminding them that early voting begins Thursday in North Carolina. She also asked them to talk to their family and friends to build support for an Obama re-election.
"Work like you have never worked before," she said. "Here in America, we always move forward. We always make progress. We never go backwards – we never have."
Many students heard the message loud and clear.
"I need to try to swing my friends to vote for Obama," UNC freshman Anna Simon said.
"I think there's so much that (the president) has done," UNC freshman Samantha Jackson said. "There's really no excuse not to vote for him."
Michelle Obama held a similar get-out-the-vote rally at the North Carolina Central University in Durham last month.
Tuesday marked the 12th time she has visited North Carolina since becoming first lady.