Democrats Unveil Secret Weapon: Michelle Obama

She can help the Dems--if she doesn't overdo it

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On Wednesday, Michelle Obama appeared at her first campaign event of 2010, stumping at a fundraiser for Senator Russ Feingold in Milwaukee. She'll be making a series of similar appearances in the coming weeks, and it's hoped that her high approval ratings will give a boost to the Democratic candidates she's seen with. But it's a fine line she has to walk, since Michelle Obama's appeal stems in part from her tendency not to get involved with the political process.

  • Everybody Loves Michelle  Ed Henry of CNN calls the First Lady's 65 percent approval rating "eye-popping." He credits this figure to Michelle's ability to "pick and choose which issues she wants to tackle"--and her habit of going with "wildly popular initiatives" like "promoting healthy eating and standing up for military families."

  • But If She Campaigns a Lot, They Might Not  Liza Mundy, who published a biography of Michelle Obama in 2008, told CNN that one reason Michelle is widely liked is that she makes a point of putting family first. When Barack was running for president, says Mundy, Michelle "was very careful not to travel or be away from home very much--often she did day trips or just one night away." Today, she's seen as "nonpolitical and nonpartisan," but too much time at the podium might erode that impression.

  • Nah, She'll Be Okay  Joel Johnson, an adviser in the Clinton White House, is confident that Michelle can handle herself. "She will now be fighting for the very things she and her husband fought for in the campaign," he told CNN. "They're going to play to her strengths and not cast her in the role of political combatant." White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs agreed, saying that Michelle will largely be delivering positive messages about candidates and avoiding "the back-and-forth of normal political campaigns."

  • This 'Mom-in-Chief' Thing Works For Her  Michelle Obama has called herself "mom-in-chief," and her remarks in Milwaukee made several references to children. Nia-Malika Henderson at The Washington Post sees this as canny positioning: "Obama manages to stake out some middle ground between retro and post-feminist. She harkens back to the original idea of first lady as 'mother of our nation' but also upends the idea of what it means to be a successful, modern woman."

  • You'd Never Know She'd Been Away  According to Andrew Stern at Reuters, the First Lady is poised as ever. "If she was out of practice after two years off the campaign trail, it didn't show," Stern writes of a Wednesday appearance in Chicago. "While not rousing, the first lady delivered on familiar themes: the enduring struggles of American families to put food on the table, to get a good education for their children, to get health care." She also emphasized that a lot of work still lies ahead: "The truth is, it is going to take a lot longer to dig ourselves out of this hole," Michelle is quoted as saying. "The truth is, this is the hard part. It is."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.