- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Democrats struggling to hold on to their congressional seats - or just make it to Washington - are getting backup, a cash infusion and a dash of star power from a political spouse who is making a highly anticipated return to the campaign trail: first lady Michelle Obama.

Not seen on the stump since the 2008 campaign that elevated her husband to the White House, Mrs. Obama is venturing out this week to support a group of candidates - mostly senators - whose help President Obama needs to keep advancing his agenda through Congress in the two years left in his term.

The first lady basically has avoided politics since coming to Washington, but last week she declared herself “fired up and ready to go” to do her part to help Democrats stay in power on Capitol Hill.

“I’m looking forward to getting back out there,” Mrs. Obama - recently named the most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine - said during a conference call with Obama supporters. “I’m excited.”

She steps back into the rough and tumble of politics on Wednesday, headlining a fundraiser at the U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee for Sen. Russ Feingold, who is in a difficult re-election battle for a fourth term.

Milwaukee is also the place where, in February 2008, Mrs. Obama’s comment about being proud of her country for the first time in her adult life gave her critics another reason to dislike her.

From Milwaukee, Mrs. Obama heads to her Chicago hometown Wednesday to help raise money for Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer and friend of her husband who is campaigning to keep Mr. Obama’s former Senate seat in Democratic hands. She will also headline a separate fundraiser for a trio of Illinois House candidates.

On Thursday, Mrs. Obama visits Denver, the mile-high city where Mr. Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, for a money-raising luncheon for Sen. Michael Bennet.

She and the president plan their first joint appearance of the campaign season Sunday in Ohio.

Mrs. Obama is one of the most popular figures in the administration. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that she is viewed favorably by 68 percent of adults compared with 57 percent who have a positive view of the president. She is so popular that some candidates have expressed more excitement at the prospect of campaigning with her than with her husband.

“It’s wonderful to have him,” said first lady historian Myra Gutin, “but she’s got the star power.”

Don’t expect Mrs. Obama to get ahead of the president, though.

Mr. Obama has campaigned, in some instances more than once, with the Senate candidates on his wife’s political schedule all of whom are defending Democratic turf and are by no means assured of victory on the night of Nov. 2.

Mr. Obama and now Mrs. Obama are looking to the Senate because losing any of the 59 seats the party holds would seriously crimp the president’s ability to move his agenda through Congress.

Mrs. Obama will also push the same themes as her husband about the economy growing slowly but moving in the right direction, about how they understand the frustration that’s out there and that voting on Nov. 2 is the only way to bring about the change people voted for two years ago.

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