- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Michelle Obama is jumping into the midterm political fray in a big way: She will headline at least nine fundraisers in six states next month for the Democrats.

That’s a fairly big commitment for a first lady who has always said she is not a political animal, but the White House insists Mrs. Obama is eager to get out there.

“From the beginning, she’s wanted to hit the campaign trail,” said Susan Sher, chief of staff to the first lady. “It was just a matter of figuring out what would work with her schedule and what would be most useful.”

And it’s no surprise that the Democrats are anxious to use the first lady’s star power: Polls show she is more popular than her husband.

Among those Mrs. Obama will campaign for is Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, who passed up a chance to appear with the president on Labor Day in Milwaukee. Mr. Feingold, in a tough re-election fight, opted to attend a parade in his hometown about 60 miles away.

Overall, the first lady’s political schedule tells the tale of the 2010 midterm elections: She is raising money for candidates who are trying to defend embattled Democratic turf, not stumping for challengers trying to make inroads in Republican terrain.

In addition to Mr. Feingold, Mrs. Obama will be campaigning for Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Patty Murray of Washington, Barbara Boxer of California and Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias of Illinois, who is trying to help the Democrats hold onto the Senate seat once held by President Obama.

The first lady also will attend Democratic National Committee fundraisers in Los Angeles and New York for the party’s Women’s Leadership Forum, and appear at events for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Illinois House contenders Debbie Halvorson, Bill Foster and Dan Seals.

So far, it all adds up to nine events over a 12-day span, from Oct. 13 to Oct. 27. The schedule includes three days in California, where Mrs. Boxer proclaimed herself “thrilled” to have the first lady’s help. White House aides said more political events are sure to be added to the first lady’s schedule, especially in the final week before the Nov. 2 elections.

White House aides said the first lady’s political schedule was crafted to place her where she can be most helpful politically while she also tends to her official duties as first lady and the needs of her young daughters, Sasha and Malia. Regarding why the first lady will be appearing at fundraisers rather than rallies or other public events, White House aides said Mrs. Obama avoids travel on the weekends, when her girls are home from school, and that it’s difficult to put together big rallies on workdays.

Recent first ladies all have stepped forward to help in the midterm elections.

In 2002, Laura Bush stumped for congressional candidates in bone-chilling cold and pronounced herself “emotionally vested” in their fates.

In 1994, Hillary Rodham Clinton served up one-two punches with her husband at a string of his-and-hers campaign events for Democratic candidates.

In 1990, Barbara Bush taped TV ads in Florida, debated Iraq policy on the stump in Nebraska and headlined a Hollywood fundraiser for a GOP candidate in California.

Don’t expect Mrs. Obama to get negative about GOP challengers. The White House said Mrs. Obama would focus on what Democrats are doing to improve the future.

“She’s campaigning to advocate, to rally voters behind specific candidates based on what we can do together to build a better future,” said Stephanie Cutter, an Obama administration adviser. “She comes to this as a mom, and that’s the lens through which she sees the world and that’s her test for every issue what it means for her daughters and all of our kids.”

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