- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just hours after an at-times testy interview between President Obama and Univision Radio host Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo aired on Monday, the popular Spanish-language show said it would get a crack at yet another White House star — first lady Michelle Obama — in his studio on Thursday.

In an election in which Mr. Obama has found limits to his campaign abilities and Democrats have shed support among female voters, Mrs. Obama is in demand as she raises cash for vulnerable Democrats and champions an array of nonpartisan causes likely to appeal to women and independents.

Since hitting the road in mid-October for the first time since 2008, the first lady has visited eight states, including a joint appearance with her husband at a rally in Ohio, and raised as much as $1 million at a pair of New York City fundraisers and $1.6 million at an event this week in San Francisco, where she stood alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“When the first lady flies across the country, that shows you what’s at stake,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is facing a strong challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina, told the crowd at a fundraiser headlined by Mrs. Obama earlier this week.

On the road, Mrs. Obama echoes her husband’s warnings about what’s at stake on Tuesday, hearkening back to the message in 2008.

“California, my husband can’t do it alone,” Mrs. Obama said with Mrs. Boxer at her side.

“Our campaign was never about putting one man in the White House. It was about building a movement for change.”

The first lady also has appealed to critical Democratic voting blocs ahead of Tuesday’s election in less-partisan venues.

In addition to the appearance on Mr. Sotelo’s talk show — popular among Hispanics — she has reached out to female voters through a speech at a women’s conference in Long Beach, Calif., and made an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” with Mrs. Biden.

Her husband likewise has courted key party constituencies, but judging by her enviable popularity, there’s a chance that Mrs. Obama’s message might be even more likely to resonate.

Sixty-five percent of Americans approve of her performance, according to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey — 20 points more than Mr. Obama’s 45 percent rating.

Unlike her husband, she polls strongly among independents and moderates, garnering 61 percent and 73 percent, respectively.

Observers credit the first lady’s wide appeal to her “mom-in-chief” image, which allows her to transcend many of the polarizing issues that have mired her husband.

The first way that Mrs. Obama “describes herself is as the mother of her children and how that’s one of the more important things in her life,” said Kathy Smith, a professor at Wake Forest University who studies first ladies, adding that Mrs. Obama’s causes have “not been very divisive.”

“Obesity in children — that’s not controversial; healthy living — not controversial; supporting military families — again, not controversial,” she said.

Indeed, admirers of Mrs. Obama say her motherly identity and humble beginnings make her a great asset on the campaign trail.

“She just seems to be a sincere campaigner and I think a lot of women relate to her as far as being a working mom,” said Aminah Hanan, managing editor of Michelle Obama Watch, a blog devoted to the first lady.

Mrs. Obama capitalized on that image in an appearance with Sen. Patty Murray in Washington state. She also has toured Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, Connecticut, New York and Ohio, imploring voters to do their part to support her husband.

“You see, the one thing I asked all of you over the course of the campaign — I said, ‘If I’m giving you my husband, then you have to have his back,’” Mrs. Obama said on the stump in Washington.

The Democratic National Committee has said that Mrs. Obama will campaign in Las Vegas and Philadelphia on Monday, the eve of Election Day.

Embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a tough re-election fight against state Sen. Sharron Angle in Nevada, while Rep. Joe Sestak is in a tight race with former Republican Rep. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.

Mrs. Obama’s approval plummeted to 50 percent in August after she took a high-profile trip to Spain with her daughter and drew criticism for staying at a lavish hotel. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll measured her popularity at 64 percent in April 2009.

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