By Amie Parnes - 07/29/14 06:00 AM EDT
First lady Michelle Obama is jumping headfirst into a midterm election campaign, during a year in which many Democrats are shunning her husband.
The popular first lady, who was reluctant to play a major role in previous midterm elections, has hit the stump early and often this cycle, appearing at Democratic campaign functions around the country and keynoting roundtable forums.
On Monday, in a major push to rally Democrats and big-money donors, Obama spearheaded a voter contract drive for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where she asked Democrats to be as passionate and hungry as when they elected her husband to office.
“When it comes to the midterm elections this November, we need you to be as passionate and as hungry as you were in 2008 and 2012,” Obama says in the video sent to supporters. “In fact, you need to be even more passionate and more hungry to get Democrats elected to Congress, because these elections will be even harder and even closer than those presidential elections.
“We’re talking about elections that are won and lost on a few thousand votes or even a few hundred votes,” the first lady continued.
Her advocacy for Democrats comes on the heels of a certain disenchantment by even die-hard supporters who have grown weary of President Obama’s policies, especially during a lackluster second term where he’s failed to put points on the board.
The president’s approval rating stands at 42 percent, according to a CNN/ORC International Survey released last week. The first lady’s approval ratings clock in around 69 percent, according to a recent Pew poll. While first ladies often have higher ratings than their husbands, Democrats are looking more than ever to seize on Michelle Obama’s likeability.
“Let’s face it, there’s no one like her at the White House,” one former senior administration official said. “No one.”
“The president is not where he once was,” the former official said. “She is. She fills the void in a big way.”
Democratic strategist Doug Thornell agreed: “I think she’s the best surrogate Democrats have right now.”
Last week, at the event in Chicago, with the president just two and a half years from ending his second term, the first lady asked donors to “dig deep” and help her husband win his last election.
“We need to be engaged right from the beginning and that’s where all of you come in,” Obama said. “Because there is something you can do right now today to make a difference and that is to write a big fat check. I kid you not. I’m going to be honest with you. That’s what we need you to do right now. We need you to write the biggest, fattest check that you can possibly write.”
With the clock ticking on her husband’s term, Thornell said Obama realizes the political landscape “would look a lot different with a Republican Senate than a Democratic Senate.”
“All of the gains that we made could be at risk,” Thornell said. “It’s about finishing his term on a high note and making sure his accomplishments are protected.”