First Lady Michelle Obama made a pitch for early voting at fundraisers in Milwaukee and Chicago and on African-American radio shows Wednesday -- and to underscore her plea, she cast her own early ballot Thursday morning in her home town.
From the Thursday pool report, by the Chicago Sun-Times Abdon M. Pallasch: Just after 9 a.m. Mrs. Obama entered the Martin Luther King Center on the South Side and was the first early voter of the day.
"I think that's you," Election Judge Dorothy Yarbrough, a retired CTA bus driver told the first lady after looking up Mrs. Obama's voting record.
"You think?" the first lady replied with a smile.
Chicago Board of Elections employee Charles Holiday gave the first lady a quick lesson on how to work the electronic voting machine.
At 5-11, Mrs. Obama had to hunch over a bit to use the machine. It took her six minutes to get through the ballot, which, in addition to races for governor, senator and the big offices, also includes 78 judges running to be elected or retained on the bench, the pool report said.
Mrs. Obama spent the night at her house on Chicago's South Side, only her third visit back since moving into the White House (and first time alone), following her first day back on the campaign trail since the 2008 presidential election.
"I am thrilled to be back home in my home town, Chicago," she said at a fund-raiser for Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias at a club in downtown Chicago. "I get to sleep in my own bed tonight."
From now to the end of the month, Mrs. Obama will focus on fundraising for Democrats coast to coast, with her star power able to draw major contributors willing to write checks at the highest end of federal donor limits. The price tag to see her at receptions in Chicago ranged from $250 to $30,4000, with the top contributors getting face time, a photo and a VIP reception.
While Mrs. Obama is one of the most popular Democrats in the country, she held off going on the campaign trail until now, and has a relatively light schedule compared to President Obama and Vice President Biden. She stumps with Obama for the first time since 2008 on Sunday, when the First Couple campaigns and fundraisers in Ohio, with stops in Cleveland and Columbus.
On Wednesday, Mrs. Obama flew from Washington to Milwaukee to headline a fundraiser for Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who is in a tough re-election battle. She then headed to Chicago for receptions to raise money for Giannoulias, who is running for her husband's former seat, and for Illinois House candidates Rep. Debbie Halvorson, Rep. Bill Foster and Dan Seals.
Her office chose not to flag the fact that on Wednesday morning she also was making a concentrated pitch to African-American voters on two shows, one hosted by Tom Joyner and another by Michael Baisden.
On the Joyner show, Mrs. Obama talked about the challenge of keeping "change alive" as Democrats face potential losses in Congress to Republicans in the midterms. Mrs. Obama said that folks who voted for President Obama in 2008 on the promise of change need to know that it takes more than one election to get that change. Democrats need to vote to "keep the change alive. So we just need to make sure that people know that this one is just as important."
While her messaging strategy for the fundraisers kept her from striking directly at Republicans -- leaving heated rhetoric and direct attacks on Republicans to Obama, Vice President Biden and others -- on the Joyner show she walked up to the partisan line.
Without using the word "Republican," Mrs. Obama said there are "people" who want to reverse Obama administration accomplishments.
"There is an agenda out there to take away those health care benefits. . . There are people who want to reverse the movements that we've got on the banks. People want to take tax cuts away from the working-class folks. So I mean, we're at a critical point now were we're still defining what this county is. And this time is critical."
She recalled on the show that early voting was a successful tool for the 2008 campaign.
"Early voting is critical because you don't want to wait until the last minute. People are busy. There's no telling what will happen on Election Day. It could be weather. You could be sick . . . Anything could happen. But early voting is something you can do at your convenience. It starts now.
"I want to encourage people to do early voting because that's really the part that the polls don't check. So folks have to be fired up, just like they were two years ago, because the same things are at stake."
Once in Milwaukee, at the Feingold fundraiser, Mrs. Obama said Democrats should vote early and "find all those folks who are planning to sit this one out. Find them! And we need you to tell them that they can't vote just once and then just hope for change to happen."
At the Giannoulias event, Mrs. Obama made another early voting pitch and said she would be casting her own ballot on Thursday morning. The president is voting absentee.