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Michelle Obama backs Coakley at Dorchester stop

First Lady Michelle Obama (left) campaigned for Martha Coakley.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff/Globe Staff

Locked in a neck-and-neck contest for governor of Massachusetts, Attorney General Martha Coakley got some high-powered backing Friday from Michelle Obama, who wooed supporters at a Dorchester landmark and urged them to vote in droves this November.

The White House treatment is meant to infuse life into Coakley’s campaign. An aide to Hillary Clinton said the former secretary of state will also campaign for Coakley. But the aide did not provide details about the visit.

Addressing a packed crowd at the Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner, Obama noted Coakley’s record advocating for victims of violence, including women and children. Obama said Coakley fought to guarantee safe access to reproductive health care, a higher minimum wage, and earned sick time for working families.


“She believes that no one should ever have to choose between keeping their job and taking care of their sick child,’’ Obama said. “If you want a governor who will stand up to powerful interests, if you want a governor who is truly on your side, then you need to elect Martha.”

Essentially tied with GOP rival Charlie Baker in the polls but trailing him in fund-raising, Coakley — paired on the Democratic ticket with lieutenant governor candidate Steve Kerrigan — is hoping to persuade true believers that a big turnout at the polls is pivotal.

Baker’s camp shrugged off the high-profile visits of Obama and Clinton.

“Charlie hopes the first lady and Secretary Clinton enjoy their visit to our beautiful Commonwealth, and he is proud to have earned the backing of prominent Democrats from right here in Massachusetts where it counts,’’ said Tim Buckley, a Baker spokesman.

In the past two days, Coakley has tried to inject vitality into what some have said is a lackluster campaign. On Thursday, she lashed out at a television ad by backers of Baker that accused her of not doing enough to protect children.


She demanded that Baker disavow what she called a “deceitful and disgusting’’ ad, but he has refused.

“If he thinks that I will stand by and allow him to lie about my record . . . then he’s wrong,” Coakley said. “He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know the people.”

Sandwiched between some powerhouse speakers — including Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley, Senator Edward J. Markey, Governor Deval Patrick, and Obama — Coakley struggled to keep enthusiasm high among the audience.

The crowd at one point seemed to buoy the candidate, chanting Martha, then Coakley.

A telling moment came at the end of the event, as hundreds of eager supporters stood up and applauded. Coakley, who had left the stage, reappeared and hugged Obama, holding her hand and waving. The two women walked to a far corner of the stage, but as Obama lingered to soak up the cheers, Coakley tugged at her hand, appearing to attempt to walk off.

The first lady tugged back at Coakley’s hand, holding her in place. The two women paused for a brief moment before walking off for good, with the attorney general leading.

Obama’s visit to Boston on her 22d wedding anniversary appeared to be an attempt to bring warmth and personal appeal in Coakley’s bid for governor.

Speaker after speaker also tried to fire up the Democratic base.

Kerrigan urged Baker and the Republicans to “bring it on” in November, while Markey conveyed a sense of urgency.


“This is the beginning of a sprint to the end of the race, and we need your help,’’ Markey said.

In a rousing speech, Pressley told the crowd that Coakley has always supported her efforts for victims and struggling families.

“This isn’t about rhetoric; it’s about a record,’’ Pressley said.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, fresh from his trip to Ireland, publicly endorsed Coakley and Kerrigan for the first time, saying Boston needs strong allies at the state level.

“That’s why this election matters for the city and the state that I love,’’ he said.

During her speech, Coakley said she has spent the past year campaigning across the state and is impressed by the optimism of residents. She pledged to build on the work that Patrick has done to help bolster local economies.

Afterward, Greg Hull, a Springfield minister, said he met Coakley when she visited his church last week, and came to Boston to show his support. She helped him get a ticket to see Obama, he said.

Outdoors at a corner in Uphams Corner, Lillian O’Neal, a 75-year-old retired Postal Service supervisor, said she was awed by Obama’s speech.

“I hope it was moving enough to get people out and vote,’’ she said. “That’s what we really need.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at