Can White House help Democrats campaign this year? Paging Michelle Obama.
Arguably the most popular surrogate for her husband’s 2012 reelection campaign, the first lady is stumping in key 2013 races, untainted by the brouhahas polarizing Washington.
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Meanwhile, last week, the first lady brought in an estimated $600,000 for Rep. Edward J. Markey (D), who is running for the US Senate in Massachusetts against Republican Gabriel Gomez. Obama has also appeared recently at the Democratic National Committee’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership gala in New York City.Skip to next paragraph
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Her pitch at these events is that in backing these candidates or issues, voters are helping her husband’s cause. And Republicans – with a national leadership void – don’t really have an equally charismatic foil for her.
At 48 percent, President Obama’s approval rating has slipped below the 50 percent watermark, according to Gallup. By contrast, Gallup’s most recent polling of the public’s view of the first lady showed her with a 65 percent favorable rating.
Tracy Sefl, a Washington-based Democratic consultant, said the first lady “speaks with a combination of accessible language and emotion,” and “audiences find her magnetic.” And at campaign events, of course, she doesn’t have to delve into the weeds of congressional inquiries. The questions or interruptions that have sometimes intruded on the president’s public events don’t pop up when the first lady hits the trail.
“Her calendar is highly strategic, obviously,” Sefl adds. “Democrats recognize that her appearances on behalf of marquee candidates like Terry McAuliffe are all the more valuable during this lighter election cycle year. The spotlight she commands becomes even brighter. She's proven to be a teflon first lady.”
But could the recent appearances reflect something more than a savvy political use of the more popular Obama? In the waning months of her husband’s tenure, Hillary Clinton turned her attention to a US Senate bid in New York, so could this be an early sign of how formidable a candidate Michelle Obama might be?
Or has the Princeton and Harvard Law grad effectively tired of the Washington scene?
That storyline remains unwritten for now.
Professor Sabato, for his part, thinks the first lady – despite her proven campaign skills – will probably move onto other things.
“I'd be willing to bet Michelle Obama won't run for office,” he says. “While she's clearly enjoying the platform her current unofficial office brings, she wouldn't have chosen politics as the family profession. Hillary Clinton is the exception that proves the rule about first ladies. Unlike Hillary, the rest have been quite happy to move back into semi-private life once the White House tour of duty is over.”
Michelle Obama will appear Thursday for McAuliffe at the Sheraton in Tysons Corner. Tickets range from $100 to $750; several hundred supporters are expected.
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