First Lady Michelle Obama returns to the campaign trail for the first time since 2008 next month, with the White House announcing her first wave of political travel in the run-up to the November election.
The schedule released Tuesday has Mrs. Obama doing nine fund-raisers in seven cities. In a telephone briefing, two senior administration officials told reporters that Mrs. Obama will be adding more events once they are finalized.
Her schedule was crafted with input from the West Wing so she does not overlap with President Obama and Vice President Biden. The selection of her stops "reflects a balance of the First Lady's official schedule as well as her schedule with her children and what we believe is the best and most effective use of her time in the run up to the election," said one of those administration officials--who would not speak on-the-record.
The first round takes Mrs. Obama to friendly Democratic territory. She returns to the arena of partisan politics on Oct. 13, with fundraisers in Milwaukee for Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and in her native Chicago to benefit Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias and three House candidates from suburban districts who are in the toughest Illinois races: Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.), Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and nominee Dan Seals.
On Oct. 14, Mrs. Obama is the headliner at a fund-raising lunch in Denver for Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.)
On Oct. 18, the First Lady hits New York for a dinner to benefit the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum. The one political event Mrs. Obama has done since moving into the White House was earlier this year, for the DNC women's fund.
A week later, she flies to Seattle and San Francisco, for three days of campaigning in California beginning Oct. 25. She will be the marquee draw for a fund-raising events for Sen. Pattty Murray (D-Wash.), and for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee which is the political organization for Democrats in the U.S. House.
In Los Angeles on Oct. 26, Mrs. Obama does another fund-raising dinner for the DNC and the women's forum; the next day she is the main attraction at events for Sen. Barbara Boxer. (D-Calif.)
Mrs. Obama has the ability to raise tens of millions of dollars at fund-raisers between now and the November election. She is a popular figure -- a CNN poll last month found a 62 percent favorable rating, compared to 53 percent for President Obama -- in part because she's been adamant about not taking on any controversial issues. Troubled by the 2008 campaign -- where she feared some comments on the stump threatened the election of her husband -- she will return to the fray with a cautious message, leaving the partisan heavy lifting to others.
"She's campaigning to advocate, to rally voters behind specific candidates based on what we can do together to build a better future. She comes to this as a mom, and that's the lens through which she sees the world and that's her test for every issue -- what it means for her daughters and all of our kids," said Stephanie Cutter, who was Mrs. Obama's 2008 campaign chief of staff and is now a White House communications and messaging adviser.
Said White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, a longtime friend of Mrs. Obama, "Mrs. Obama is looking at this campaign outreach the same way she did in 2008 -- as a concerned citizen and as a mom who wants the best for her daughters. From that vantage point, she has the opportunity to really speak from the heart, to connect with the voters she meets along the way, just as she did so well in 2008, and to express her strong support for continuing the change we've been able to make over the last 18 months."
Democrats have been asking for Mrs. Obama's help for months. Her chief of staff, Susan Sher said, "From the beginning, she's wanted to hit the campaign trail. It was just a matter of figuring out what would work with her schedule and what would be most useful."
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