First lady Michelle Obama was in Tucson on Monday as part of a four-state campaign push in the West — a visit that has political analysts saying that Arizona could very well be up for grabs in November's presidential election.
Speaking to about 450 people at a fundraiser for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign in Arizona, Mrs. Obama said the campaign will be a long, hard road with twists and turns, and she urged the crowd to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
"Are you in?" she said. "I know so well what the stakes are. ... We need you every step of the way."
Mrs. Obama landed in the southern Arizona city Monday evening after stopping in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she helped open the 2012 Warrior Games, a six-day sports competition for wounded soldiers and veterans. Mrs. Obama told the athletes that they are an inspiration for all Americans.
"Every competitor here has faced adversity that most of us can never imagine," she said. "No matter how seriously you are injured, no matter what obstacles or setbacks you face, you just keep moving forward.
"You just keep pushing yourselves to succeed in ways that just mystify and leave us all in awe," she said.
After arriving in Tucson, the first lady hugged and spoke at the airport with Tucson children and teens who volunteer at a local urban farm before leaving for the fundraiser.
Mrs. Obama said that the election will be about the country asking, "Who are we?"
"The choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country, but more importantly, who we want to be," she said. "Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just a few at the top? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead no matter who you are or how you started out."
"All the indicators are that Arizona's in play," said Jim Haynes, president of the nonpartisan, Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center, which conducts election polls.
"The voters are obviously restless and wrestling with what they're going to do in November," Haynes said. "There's still a lot of question marks in their minds. And as things unfold positively and negatively on behalf of each one of them, I think people are going to bounce back and forth."
A recent poll by the Behavior Research Center showed that 42 percent of the 511 registered voters contacted across the state supported Obama, 40 percent supported Romney and that 18 percent were unsure. Because the poll, which was conducted April 9-17, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, Obama and Romney are considered about even among Arizona voters.
In terms of fundraising, Romney has been more successful, raising $1.7 million in the state through March 31, compared with Obama's $1.1 million.
Haynes said that although Arizona doesn't carry the electoral punch like California, Florida and other states, it is highly coveted by both parties for its national reputation as a Republican stronghold and as ground zero for the immigration debate.
"Arizona's a symbolic state now, for both sides," he said. "It's big stuff for a Democratic candidate to be able to say, 'I'm running neck and neck in a state like Arizona.' The flip side is that Romney has a strong interest in keeping the so-called faith base safe.
"We're going to get a lot of attention paid to Arizona," Haynes added.
Bruce Merrill, a poll director at the nonpartisan Morrison Institute in Phoenix, said that Arizona "certainly is in play."
"If the election were held today, I think Romney would probably win," he said. "But six months is a long time, and certainly the Democrats have some things going for them this year that they haven't had in the past."
The Behavior Research Center's poll showed that Hispanics in Arizona favor Obama over Romney 64 to 25 percent, with 11 percent unsure.
The last time a Democratic candidate won the presidential race in Arizona was Bill Clinton's re-election in 1996.
Shane Wikfors, communications director with the Arizona Republican Party, said the Obama campaign is well organized and has a network in place in Arizona and across the country, giving them an advantage.
But Wikfors said Romney's campaign is very disciplined and can come out on top.
"Our take on the Obama administration thinking that they can put Arizona in play is, let them continue to believe that," he said. "In fact, let them spend as much money here in Arizona as they want. Arizona is going to remain red."
He said Arizonans upset about the economy and the unemployment rate will vote for Romney.
Luis Heredia, chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, said Democrats have thought they could win presidential races in the past but that there is a different energy on the ground in the state this time around.
He said Arizonans frustrated with the Republican-led Legislature will turn to Obama, and that the first lady's visit Monday should be the first of many high-profile visits from Obama's team.
"It's going to motivate Democrats for what's going to be an exciting summer," he said. "We're hoping her visit will be the first of many different things that will motivate voters, not only Democrats, but independents and frustrated Republicans."
On Tuesday, Mrs. Obama heads to Nevada and New Mexico. Obama scheduled to attend a fundraiser and meet with supporters in Las Vegas on Tuesday morning, a day after she stopped in Colorado and Arizona.
Nevada is among several key battleground states that could determine whether President Barack Obama receives a second term in the White House. Her Las Vegas stop comes amid frequent visits to Nevada from various cabinet members, Vice President Joe Biden and the president.
Obama won Nevada in 2008, but the state voted Republican in 2000 and 2004.
In New Mexico, Mrs. Obama will be greeted by airmen from Kirtland Air Force Base and their families when she arrives in Albuquerque on Tuesday afternoon. She's then scheduled to speak at the private fundraiser.
(Reporting by Rema Rahman in Colorado)
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.