Politics

Michelle Obama reports for campaign duty

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

Michelle Obama is playing a growing role in her husband’s re-election campaign, partly as a fundraiser, but especially as a cheerleader for her husband’s female supporters.

The first lady attended at least two Jan. 26 fundraisers in Florida, where she ticked off a list of the president’s progressive accomplishments, promised more government intervention and ended with urgent appeals for audiences to join the campaign, according to the White House transcripts of her remarks.

Roughly 250 people paid a minimum of $500 to attend a lunchtime fundraiser in Sarasota, according to the transcript.

MRS. OBAMA: “So let me ask you one final question:  Are you in?

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

MRS. OBAMA: Wait. Are you in?

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

MRS. OBAMA:  Because I am so in.  (Laughter.)  I am so very in.

Prior to the 2010 mid-term election blowout, the first lady played only a minor role in her husband’s campaign plans. But her role has increased markedly since then.

Mrs. Obama has attended 17 fundraisers organized by the Democratic National Committee since June 2011, including five in Florida, three in California, and others in Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Illinois and Louisiana.

On Jan. 11 she attended two campaign fundraisers in Virginia on the same day that the president hosted one in their home town of Chicago. (RELATED: Full coverage of Michelle Obama)

Next week she is slated for a California trip, where she will attend two fundraisers and appear on two television shows. One is Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show,” and the other is “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” whose host is a vocal supporter of the president.

The first lady has also appeared at more events that showcase her non-political role in Washington. Since November, for example, she has headlined a “Toys for Tots” drive, a job fair, several events for soldiers and their families, a trouble-free appearance on the iCarly kids’ TV show and a quick appearance at a NASCAR rally.

Mrs. Obama is well-regarded by most Americans but engenders animosity in some, owing to the anonymous but corroborated tales about her clashes with White House officials including former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and former press secretary Robert Gibbs.

For example, in a Marist poll of 1,042 registered voters in October, 63 percent had a positive impression of her while just 21 percent had an unfavorable view. Her support among Democratic women, especially African-American women, is likely far higher.

Thursday’s trip included two fundraisers at expensive mansions in Palm Beach and Sarasota, plus a public event at a Tampa supermarket that featured a Hispanic food company and an audience that included numerous Hispanic and African-American children.

The trip put the first lady, and her politically correct healthy-food campaign, on Florida TV alongside the increasingly aggressive and hard-nosed GOP primary candidates.

She pushed a very ambitious progressive agenda at both fundraisers, arguing that university-trained professionals in government should protect people from corporate executives and from their own mistakes in the free market.

“We know that in this country we rise and we fall together. … We know that if we make the right choices, if we have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone — everyone — gets a fair shake and everyone has a chance to get ahead,” she told her Sarasota audience.

The Palm Beach event was held at the $40 million Palm Beach home of Howard and Michele Kessler, who are major contributors to Democratic causes.

The Sarasota event was held at the ocean-view home of Richard and Caren Lobo. He’s a former chairman of the Florida Public Broadcasting Service and CEO of the PBS station that serves Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota.

She told similar stories about President Obama to both audiences.

“Barack has a memory like a steel trap. … If he’s had a few minutes with you and a decent conversation, he might not remember your name but he will never forget your story. … That is where Barack gets his passion.  That is where he gets his toughness and his fight.”

She also tried out a few cautious jokes, telling her Sarasota audience that “we all know that this isn’t just about one extraordinary man — although I admit I’m a little biased.  I think he’s kind of cute.”

But at both events, she amped up her appeal for support and help.

“We don’t have time,” she told the Palm Beach audience of 140 donors. “We need you fired up and ready to go and ready to make it happen. … So I am counting on seeing all of you out there, doing whatever it is you do best — taking your neighbors and shaking them a little bit. (Laughter.) Going to church and making sure people are registered to vote.  Yelling from the rooftops.  Pulling women aside — just shaking them. (Laughter.) We need you.”

That’s a much stronger appeal than what she offered donors at a Pasadena mansion last June. “I hope that you all are ready to go — (applause) — because it is going to take all of our energy to keep moving towards the future,” she told the wealthy California audience.

It was also stronger than her September pitch to a lunchtime fundraiser in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: “We are going to work our butts off to make this right.  So we need you behind us.  Thank you so much, Maine.  Thank you.  Let’s get going!  Let’s get to work!”

The Palm Beach audience got the same urgent appeal as the Sarasota donors, some 10 months before her husband stands for re-election amid economic uncertainty and a growing portfolio of White House scandals.

“This is going to be hard,” Mrs. Obama said. “We can’t take anything for granted and we need everyone — every single one of you — to be laser-focused, creating those smart women. Right? (Applause.) Building up that base. Telling people the truth of who this president is and what he’s done for so many across the country and around the world. … We have to get it done.”

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