Michelle Obama to lend star power to Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign is planning a rollout for Michelle Obama’s endorsement, although there are questions around just how public a role the enormously popular former first lady will play in his campaign.
Sources tell The Hill that the Biden campaign’s early plans include a focus on remote fundraising and voter registration efforts.
The trick for Michelle Obama and the Biden campaign is finding the right balance for the pop culture icon, who could be a massive asset for the campaign but has never shown much enthusiasm for campaign politics.
“This week was President Obama’s moment to enter the campaign. Of course Mrs. Obama supports Joe Biden and we will keep you posted on her plans,” an Obama aide said.
The timing of the rollout is uncertain.
“We know what pretty much everyone in America does: Michelle Obama is probably the most beloved member of the Democratic party and her support is a big deal,” a Biden aide said. “Any future announcement would reflect the incredible impact her voice has.”
Howard Gutman, a former Obama administration ambassador, said that “the Biden campaign will take anything they can get” from the former first lady.
“The question is, as a family matter, what kind of profile does she and her husband and her daughters want her to have?” he said. “It’s a question of how much they want her to be out there in the crossfire.”
Sources tell The Hill that Obama is expected to lend her name to an email fundraiser, potentially as early as next week. She may also lend her image to a direct mail campaign, while continuing the voter registration efforts she has spearheaded as the founder of a nonpartisan nonprofit group.
In addition, there are talks about the former first lady potentially filming a short online video in support of Biden that has a lighter tone than the one former President Obama filmed for his endorsement earlier this week.
The campaign would also like Michelle Obama to pop in from time to time on virtual fundraisers, and Democrats expect she will work the phones behind the scenes, encouraging her celebrity friends and fundraisers who may have backed other candidates in the primary to rally behind Biden.
The sources say the details and timing are still being ironed out.
Political observers say the Obamas provide the one-two punch Biden needs to help rally Democrats as he seeks to address an enthusiasm gap against President Trump. The former president’s endorsement on Tuesday received more than 1 million views in the first 39 minutes it was posted, according to Twitter data.
Michelle Obama actually has a far higher favorability rating than her husband, in addition to being the author of the best-selling memoir of all time. Her book “Becoming” sold 10 million copies in the four months after it was released.
“Some might say Michelle Obama is the more popular Obama,” said one source familiar with the endorsement. “She’s the one with the blockbuster book.”
A source said that Michelle Obama “has an incredible soft spot for Joe,” and their families have remained close since leaving the White House.
Democrats expect Obama will do more for Biden than she did for Hillary Clinton in 2016. That year, she gave an electric speech at the Democratic National Convention, where she memorably rolled out the “when they go low, we go high” line that has become her political mantra.
The first lady did make public appearances on behalf of Clinton, although mostly in the waning days of the campaign.
Despite her popularity, Obama has resisted calls to run for office or to be on the front lines campaigning, underscoring her apparent distaste for election politics.
Democrats who have worked with her on political campaigns say she’s happy to do her part, but also note that she seems to have little interest in the fundraising and glad-handing aspects of it.
“She hates campaigning and fundraising with a passion,” said one Biden fundraiser. “She hates dealing with donors, hates the bullshit political side of things and how fake it all is, and she thinks of it as a time suck. It’s the single number one reason she won’t run for office, even though no matter what office she’d run for, she’d win.”
The most natural spot for Obama could be on the voter registration side, where she launched a group in 2018 called “When We All Vote,” along with Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monáe, Chris Paul, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. She will lead a virtual event for the group on Monday as part of an effort to encourage voters to take advantage of mail and absentee balloting during the coronavirus pandemic.
The group is ostensibly nonpolitical, and a spokesperson told The Hill they are working to register voters of all political stripes, despite the Obamas recently having endorsed Biden.
“When We All Vote is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization and our focus will continue to be increasing participation in every election,” said Crystal Carson, a spokeswoman for the group. “We want every eligible voter to be registered and ready to cast their ballot, no matter their background.”
While many Democrats expect Obama will largely remain above the political fray, they also said not to underestimate the lengths she’ll go to get Biden elected and to protect her husband’s legacy.
“She may not like politics, but also Donald Trump has dissembled everything her husband tried to accomplish,” said Dick Harpootlian, the former Democratic Party chairman of South Carolina and a Biden supporter. “If she engages, God help Donald Trump, because she’s tough as nails and enormously popular.”
“She may not be out there breathing fire on the campaign trail,” Harpootlian added. “But she’ll be firm, and she’ll explain why Trump is not fit to be reelected and can synthesize her support for Biden in a digestible way.”
Updated: 5:18 p.m.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.