Michelle Obama warms up for campaign trail

The first lady will dust off her campaign skills for an October swing through key states at a crucial time before the midterm elections. She'll be fundraising and promoting Democratic candidates.
By Nia-Malika Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 5, 2010; 12:37 PM

Slowly but surely, (and no doubt strategically) first lady Michelle Obama is working her way onto the campaign trail.

Last week, on a conference call, she rallied nurses around health-care legislation, and Tuesday morning she sent out a personal plea for small donations to her party's base that looks back at the "movement" fervor of campaign 2008 and tries to connect it to November.

"Now, with the stakes so high in this fall's elections, we're asking you to help grow this movement again. . . . But Barack can't keep making progress without strong allies in Congress. And now the same people who've opposed us at every turn are targeting those who voted to make change real. They think we can't do it again. But they're wrong," she writes in an e-mail to the Organizing for America group. "If the folks who I saw in 2008 - those of you who packed up your bags and slept on floors and made calls and talked to voters day after day - are ready to stand with us again, then I'm ready for any challenge that lies ahead."

The next challenge for the first lady is a six-state fundraising swing beginning with an event for Sen. Russell Feingold in Wisconsin on Oct. 13. (Feingold trails in polls by about nine points, but with $3 million cash on hand, he has double the funds of his opponent, Ron Johnson).

The first lady has had few public events since her speech last month at the Clinton Global Initiative, but aides said she is working with her team and the West Wing on a schedule and on a stump speech. She shares speechwriters with the president, so expect similar language, minus the harsh partisan tone.

The White House has gone heavily for the base over the past days, aiming to amp up the youth vote on a Wisconsin college campus, and the president will hit MTV for a youth town hall next week. Sunday, the president will headline a rally in Philadelphia, where in April 2008, he drew a crowd of 35,000. No word yet on whether the first lady will do any rallies - her no-weekend-travel rule makes rallies harder to plan. But she could break that rule the weekend before the election.

In her e-mail to supporters, the first lady asks for $3 donations, and Wednesday, she steps up her efforts a bit more when she hosts a conference call with supporters.

So far, the first lady is sticking closely to the Laura Bush 2002 midterm model, rather than the Hillary Clinton 1994 midterm model. In 2002, Bush headlined six fundraisers for gubernatorial and Senate candidates, mostly women and moderates. But in 1994, Clinton, even though her popularity was battered from fights over health-care legislation, made more than 20 political appearances. Clinton's efforts didn't help stop the Republican wave. The White House is hoping that Michelle Obama, with her 66 percent approval rating, can.

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