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Michelle Obama, on the trail as mom-in-chief

The first lady is No. 1 on Forbes Magazine's list of the most powerful women.

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By Nia-Malika Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 10:19 AM

First lady Michelle Obama is switching to campaign mode for the next 2 1/2 weeks, delivering a 2,700-word stump speech (plus or minus a few ad libs) as she urges voters to punch their ballots for Democratic candidates across the country Nov. 2.

Her presence on the trail, a welcome one for struggling Democrats in need of money and a reenergized base, adds another layer to Obama's role as first lady - one she, like other first ladies, took to with some reluctance but then seemed to embrace.

In highly personal terms, Obama lays out the case for her husband's agenda, vouching for his policies and who he is as a person, and urges support for Democrats locked in tight races. She visited Milwaukee and Chicago on Wednesday; on Thursday she heads to Colorado for a fundraiser for Sen. Michael Bennet.

And while she is on the money trail to tout candidates and her party, telling audiences why the Obama agenda is important, her approach to campaigning tells us something about who she is and who she isn't.

Here's what we learn:

- She will never be Hillary Rodham Clinton: Michelle Obama and the Obama administration's secretary of state have two things in common: law degrees and husbands who won the presidency. It ends there.

For Clinton, politics was war, and she relished the combat. Her campaign tale of landing in Bosnia under a hail of bullets was an embellishment, but it was also a metaphor for how she saw herself: constantly under fire.

But for Obama, politics isn't an us-against-them contact sport. She has no red meat to throw to the base. In her 20-minute speech in Milwaukee, on her first campaign swing for the November elections, she never once said the word Republican or even alluded to the highly partisan and polarizing political climate. Hard to imagine Clinton, who coined the phrase "vast right-wing conspiracy," managing that.

Michelle Obama is a happy warrior, emphasis on happy.

- 2008 is 2010 is 2012: Much of Obama's stump speech could have been given two years ago. And, if history is any judge, it could form the basis of much of what she says in 2012 for her husband's reelection campaign.

More than her husband, whose public image is battered and bruised compared with what it was two years ago, Michelle Obama is the keeper of the 2008 flame, the protector of Barack the Brand.

In her Milwaukee speech, she referred to her husband as the president only twice; mostly, he was simply Barack, the former community organizer.


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