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First Lady In Demand on Campaign Trail

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
In places where the president is less popular, some vulnerable Congressional Democrats are hoping for a visit from first lady Michelle Obama to give them a boost.

Members have attended the first lady’s fundraisers and events in their home states. For example, Sen. Amy Klobuchar joined Michelle Obama at a mid-March fundraiser in Minneapolis to benefit the president’s re-election.

It’s no wonder the first lady is sought-after. Sixty-six percent of voters view the first lady favorably, according to a Gallup poll taken in May. That’s 14 points higher than the favorable rating that voters gave the president in the same survey.

Michelle Obama has campaigned at the Congressional level less frequently than her predecessor, first lady Laura Bush.

In 2004, the last cycle an incumbent president sought re-election, Laura Bush started campaigning for Republicans in the spring. As early as March 2004, she hosted a luncheon for then-Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.). She reportedly raised more than $15 million for Republicans that cycle.

When President George W. Bush’s approval ratings took a nose dive in the 2006 cycle, Republicans booked his popular wife’s schedule with campaign events.  By May of that year, Laura Bush reportedly headlined about a dozen campaign events for Congressional candidates.

President Bill Clinton and then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigned frequently for fellow Democrats and their party, sources said. Unlike the Obamas and Bushes, the Clintons had nearly equal approval ratings on average, according to the Gallup poll.

No hard-and-fast data on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign schedule could be found. But sources recalled she was particularly engaged in campaigning for New York candidates in the last couple of years of her husband’s second term as she mounted her own run for Senate.

“For Bill and Hillary, this was an ongoing thing for them. They were always coming into states and raising money for parties,” said Basil Smikle, a New York Democratic consultant. “This president doesn’t really campaign for party institutions and candidates in the same way the Clintons did.”

It should be noted that Vice President Joseph Biden has kept an active presence on the Congressional campaign trail, filling the White House’s need for a versatile presidential surrogate. On Monday, Biden attended fundraisers for McCaskill in Missouri and Sen. Maria Cantwell in Washington state.

Biden, like Michelle Obama and Laura Bush in 2006, is able to campaign in areas of the country not as hospitable to the president.

It’s also worth noting that the president’s children are some of the youngest to occupy the White House in recent history. Democrats argued the first lady’s time is even more scarce for this reason. And naturally, they said, her priority is to ensure her husband’s re-election.

“Job one is getting the president re-elected,” former Clinton White House senior adviser Doug Sosnik said. “The single most limited resource you have in the White House isn’t money — it’s time.”

But there are some states and races the first lady can cross off a potential campaign calendar.

The president remains highly unpopular in West Virginia, where Sen. Joe Manchin (D) is virtually a lock for re-election this November.

So would Manchin want the first lady to stop by for a campaign visit? When asked this question outside the Senate chamber two weeks ago, Manchin simply smiled, said nothing and allowed the elevator doors to close.

There are still some places even Michelle Obama is not welcome.

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