By Sean J. Miller - 12/20/09 10:03 PM EST
House Democrats facing tough reelection battles would undoubtedly jump
at the chance of hosting a high-profile visit from first lady Michelle
But when and where – or even if – the first lady will campaign in 2010 remains a mystery. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who helms the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was adamant when asked earlier this week about Obama’s 2010 schedule. “That’s a decision for the White House,” Van Hollen said. “We’re confident that the president will be out.”
Van Hollen said his members accepted that the first lady wouldn’t be politically active in her first year. “I think our members have understood that, at least in this first year, the first lady has been very focused on other issues," he said.
Observers say expectations will rise as another election approaches. “The question will be what happens for the midterms," said Anita McBride, who was first lady Laura Bush’s chief of staff during her husband’s second term. "I think [Michelle Obama's] obviously comfortably doing the campaigning. She did plenty of it for her husband.”
Obama hasn't remained completely apolitical this year. During her first public appearance at the White House after the inauguration, she lauded the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. And later, during a goodwill tour of federal agencies, she touted the president’s stimulus bill. But as her husband traveled to Virginia and New Jersey in support of Democratic gubernatorial candidates this fall, she stayed home.
Obama will likely become more active on the campaign trail as the midterm elections near, predicted Myra Gutin, a professor at Rider University in New Jersey who studies the role of the first lady. “They’d be squandering an asset if they didn’t [use her],” Gutin said. “She’s very popular, she’s articulate. I would look for her to be very active in the midterm election. And she certainly would not be the first first lady to do that." In a Fox News poll taken last month, some 63 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Obama.
McBride said Bush grew more active on the campaign trail as her time in the White House went on. She estimated that Bush spent 10 percent of her time campaigning for candidates in the 2002 midterm elections. “She did do some campaigning as she was requested to go to some individual races,” McBride said. “She really emerged as a player on the campaign trail for the reelect in 2004 and was used quite extensively. She devoted a lot of her time to the final months.” By the 2006 midterms, McBride estimated Bush was spending 40 percent of her time campaigning for candidates.
Organizing a first lady’s campaign trips involves extensive coordination, McBride added.
“I’m sure this will be a strategic decision on the part of the White House, on the part of the Democratic National Committee and the part of the campaign committees,” she said. “Ultimately, that schedule will be reviewed with both the president and first lady and they’ll ultimately agree to do it or not.”
She added, “I can’t imagine either one of them are not going to want to do what they can to get Democrats elected.”