For a spouse who once expressed an aversion to politics and regularly said it took “convincing on Barack’s part” to get her on board, the approach represents a notable shift.
The first lady is “someone who never asked to be on the public stage and never aspired to be on the public stage but now has found a comfortable place,” David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, said in a recent interview.
Perhaps. Or perhaps Michelle Obama is as attuned to the polling data as the rest of her husband’s reelection team — and has decided that, in an election that has been virtually deadlocked for months, every ounce of her enthusiasm could count. She said as much in an interview on the “Steve Harvey Morning Show” last week.
“We can’t assume we love Barack [so] he is going to be fine. No. That’s not how this works,” she said. “We have to be vigilant.”
That sense of urgency was not always a hallmark of the first lady’s rhetoric, which has undergone a dramatic evolution since her introduction to the electorate. While she was always an energetic backer of her husband’s, Michelle Obama peppered her public appearances with doses of doubt about the process, not to mention ample lighthearted criticism of her husband’s foibles (remember her complaints about his dirty socks?). She suffered for her flashes of honesty, most famously in 2008, when her confession that she had only recently become proud of her country brought a torrent of accusations that she was unpatriotic. She quickly revamped her image, clamping down on her spontaneity and, after moving into the White House in 2009, declaring herself “mom in chief” with little potential for controversy.
Her popularity soared, all the more so after she planted the first White House garden since Eleanor Roosevelt. But now, with the election just 31
2 months away and the polling consistently tight, she has loosened up — at least somewhat.
“At this point, what have you got to lose? This is your last national campaign. It really sort of frees you up for all kinds of strategies to win,” said Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to former first lady Laura Bush. McBride recalled Michelle Obama’s performance in the 2008 campaign as “a little rocky,” saying she now appears to have a “completely different attitude toward the whole process.”
“Maybe this is what she understood campaigning to be at the very beginning,” McBride said, referring to the first lady’s grass-roots focus.