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Michelle Obama Will 'Take No Prisoners' in Pushing Chicago for 2016 Olympics

4 years ago
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She's got game.

And First Lady Michelle Obama, leaving tonight for Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago's 2016 Olympics bid, is cranking it up, promising to "take no prisoners" in her quest to beat Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid.

Mrs. Obama offered up some good-natured G-rated trash talk about Chicago's rivals when she met with a group of reporters on Monday to discuss Friday's vote by the International Olympic Committee to pick the 2016 host city.

"It's a battle. We're going to win," she boasted Monday with bravado -- and good humor. "Take no prisoners."

Mrs. Obama also provided fair warning of her intentions to her counterpart in U.S. rival nations also seeking the Olympic bid. Last Thursday, at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, she said she was seated next to the first lady of Brazil at a dinner. "I adore her," Mrs. Obama said. "And -- but I said, 'You know I'm going to hug you now -- and then I'm going after you in Copenhagen.' And she said, 'You too.' "

Mrs. Obama lands in Copenhagen on Wednesday morning and will start lobbying the 106-member IOC when she hits the ground. President Obama is also dashing over to Denmark, arriving for a few hours on Friday to be part of Chicago's final presentation -- the last sales pitch -- to the deciding body. It will take some 50-plus votes to win, so a personal appeal, just as in a political campaign, could swing fence-sitters.

This is Mrs. Obama's biggest assignment in the nine months since coming to the White House. Her Monday session with an invited group of reporters at the White House was her first ever press conference as first lady.

The Olympics are personal for the first lady, as many of the Olympic venues are not far from the Obamas' South Side Chicago home. She departs Tuesday evening with her pal Valerie Jarrett, the White House senior adviser who is overseeing the administration's Olympic drive. The president will leave Thursday night. He had been hesitant to commit to the trip, saying earlier this month he may have to stay home to work on health care.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley had been counting on Obama to help sway the IOC and give the city its best shot. Securing the Olympics for Chicago has been something of an obsession of the mayor. (Both Jarrett and Mrs. Obama come out of Daley's City Hall; Jarrett hired Mrs. Obama to work for the city.)

The first lady said Obama always wanted to go, but did not want to raise expectations. "Really, it's easier to leave expectations pretty level, and then not disappoint," she said. "Now people are excited. But if he had said he could go and somehow couldn't go, that would be bad. Now it's great."

Oprah Winfrey is also flying to Copenhagen, with the international superstar getting her own lobbying assignments. "We've got a great overall team," Mrs. Obama said. "And Oprah is like the icing on the cake."

Once upon a time, it might have seemed unpresidential for the First Family to openly lobby in this way, but former British Prime Minister Tony Blair altered the grounds rules when he personally lobbied IOC officials in Singapore in 2005. Blair's hands-on diplomacy is credited with helping London land the 2012 Summer Games. Seeking every edge, Jarrett met with Blair in New York for about an hour last week. "He was very helpful," Jarrett said.

The Obamas are global brands, as is Winfrey. But they are facing competition from royalty and other heads of state. King Carlos and Queen Sophia from Spain are expected, as is Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Japan may be sending Crown Prince Naruhito and the new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama.

Will it be embarrassing for the Obamas if they give it their all and Chicago's bid fails?

Said the first lady: "You're darned if you do and you're darned if you don't. I'd rather be on the side of doing it. And I think that's how the president feels."

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