Special to South Florida Times

MIAMI LAKES — Registering voters is a critical part of the campaign to re-elect President Barack Obama, his wife told a standing-room-only audience Tuesday at a Miami-Dade high school.

In a fiery address to grassroots supporters and volunteers during her first official re-election campaign stop in Florida, First Lady Michelle Obama saluted campaign workers.

“You all are knocking on those doors … giving people the information they need about the issues they care about,” she said. “And I just want you to know that that kind of grassroots work that you all are doing to get people focused and fired up, that is the work that’s at the very core of this campaign.”

With the latest figures showing the GOP easily raising more funds than the Democrats, and outspending them  $269 million to $133 million on broadcast advertising to date, the grassroots, street-level campaigning by Obama supporters is crucial, Obama said.

 “We’re doing this because we want our parents and our grandparents to be able to retire with a little dignity, because we believe that after a lifetime of hard work, they should be able to enjoy their golden years, right?” Obama told the gathering of more than 1,000 supporters at Barbara Goleman High School, 14100 N.W. 89th Ave., Miami Lakes.

“We are doing this because we want to restore that basic middle-class security for our families, because we believe that in America folks shouldn’t go bankrupt because someone gets sick.  They shouldn’t lose their home because someone loses a job.”

Obama said people should understand that while “we have a long way to go to rebuild our economy, today, millions of people are collecting a paycheck again … are able to pay their bills again.”

On education, Obama said: “We want all of our children to have those good schools, the kind of schools that push them and inspire them and prepare them for the good jobs and opportunities for the future.”

Her husband, she said, knows what it means when a family struggles. “He knows what it means to work hard because you want something better for your kids and for your grandkids. Like me, and like so many of you, he knows the American Dream because he’s lived it,” she said.

The first lady’s remarks resonated with Wilfred Johnson of Opa-locka.  “When you talk about change, you talk about the future,” she said, “and without a better school system we may as well stand where we are.”

Obama, she said, “is right on the money with education and I’m glad he stands as an example of the life young black kids can not only dream about but live.”

Mitchell Barnes of Ojus said that it is important for a   president to understand the lives of regular Americans, especially in this economy. “No matter how bad things get, I have to keep my head up for my family and I think the president understands that this feeling is more common today than ever,” Barnes said.

Amy Wells of Miami Gardens was so inspired by Obama’s address that  she plans to volunteer with the campaign. “Mrs. Obama was right. We all need to do our part in order to finish the next four (years),” Wells said. “It takes spreading the word, giving out information and getting people to register and vote. Easier said than done, I know, but this is really important to all of us, to our future.”

Clara Gabriel, 49, a Broward County school teacher, was also among those who signed up to volunteer with the campaign after Obama’s speech.

The Haiti native voted for President Obama in 2008 but had not voted during the 2010 election.

“It’s very different this time,” she told the Associated Press. “I don’t want him to lose. There is much more he needs to do, and I feel I have to do my part now.”

Goleman High School normally would have been empty with students away on summer break, and school employees could have attended the campaign event only if they were not working.

Still some Republican members of the Miami-Dade School Board – state House candidate Renier Diaz de la Portilla, and Carlos Curbelo – had called for its cancelation, saying that allowing politics at a public high school would send the wrong message. Religious, nonprofit, political and other groups that meet the requirements are regularly allowed to lease such facilities, which is a routine practice of both presidential campaigns.

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net