Here she was transformed, from the wife of “this guy from Chicago with the funny name,” as she recalled here, to first lady and arbiter of soft politics, a woman sublimely comfortable in front of all those cameras.
In the past year and a half, she has held 47 rallies and 92 fundraisers and has been featured on dozens of magazine covers and talk shows. After two rallies in Iowa on Monday, she took off again with plans to campaign Thursday in Florida, Friday in Virginia and Saturday in Ohio.
The conventional wisdom among political strategists is that candidates’ spouses don’t move voters, said Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary for President George W. Bush.
“My experience is that first ladies are always notable. They play an important role behind the scenes with the president, and they are often interesting people, but politically their influence is almost always overstated,” Fleischer said. “Her popularity is not transferable. There’s no history that says it is.”
But Michelle Obama, who is among the most popular figures in the Democratic Party, is trying to disprove the wisdom. She wants to move money and votes, and she often evokes emotion to do so.
This week when the campaigns had paused for Hurricane Sandy, the first lady sent an e-mail to supporters with the subject line “Barack is getting outraised.” “We can either give it our all in these final days, or wake up on November 7th wishing we had done a little more,” the message read.
As a fundraiser and campaigner, Michelle Obama “is very effective,” White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said in an interview.
“I saw the very clear impact that she had on the audiences,” said Jarrett, who traveled to Iowa with the first lady. “I watched her on the rope line and the exchange of conversation she had with individuals where she looked right into their eyes, and she’s so open and transparent.”
The campaign does not release individual fundraising totals for the president, vice president and first lady, but before Michelle Obama’s most recent fundraiser — a posh brunch at the home of actors Will and Jada Smith in San Diego — Will Smith said the first lady had set a new fundraising record.
“We made history y’all! The fundraiser that Jada and I are hosting for our First Lady is SOLD OUT — and we helped Mrs. Obama beat the fundraising record for a seated First Lady!” Smith posted on his Facebook page Oct. 22.
The campaign had no comment on Smith’s post, but the notion of Michelle Obama as premier fundraiser suggests the full circle she has traveled.
Whereas in late 2007 she confessed in an interview that her life would be better had her husband not decided to run for president, in 2012 she gives no hint there is anything she would rather be doing. In Iowa City, she called this campaign a “gift” and a “blessing.”