Michelle Obama Is Stepping Out on the Campaign Trail to Get Votes for Hillary Clinton

Michelle Obama at the White House in April. She rarely appears at political events, doing so only when she believes her presence could affect the outcome of a race. Credit Zach Gibson/The New York Times
Michelle Obama at the White House in April. She rarely appears at political events, doing so only when she believes her presence could affect the outcome of a race. Credit Zach Gibson/The New York Times

Michelle Obama has bridled for years at the confines of life in the White House and has tried to steer clear of the partisan messiness that has consumed her husband and is fueling this year’s bare-knuckled presidential contest.

But this week, Mrs. Obama will wade into the campaign fray on behalf of Hillary Clinton, putting her broad popularity and reputation for authenticity to work for a candidate who has suffered from a lack of both.

At an event in northern Virginia on Friday, Mrs. Obama will urge voters to register ahead of the state’s Oct. 17 deadline, the first of what aides say will be a series of appearances in the coming weeks in support of Mrs. Clinton.

Mrs. Obama’s steps into the campaign spotlight underscore her transformation from a once-reluctant political spouse into a confident public figure, a role she says she has embraced more fully during President Obama’s second term.

Mrs. Obama’s communications director, Caroline Adler Morales, said the first lady’s focus would be on encouraging voters in swing states, particularly young people and African-Americans, to register and vote.

Her message, Ms. Morales said, will emphasize “the qualifications and demeanor a president needs, the values we hold dear as Americans and our shared hopes for the future.”

Mrs. Obama previewed her pitch in July during a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention, in which she delivered a testimonial for Mrs. Clinton as a leader who could be trusted to carry on Mr. Obama’s legacy. It was also a quiet but sharp denunciation of Donald J. Trump, whom she did not name, in which she took aim at his campaign slogan and derided him as a cynic who viewed the world’s challenges in terms of 140-character posts on Twitter.

Mrs. Obama has never had much affection for the campaign trail, and has spoken openly about trying to persuade her husband not to run for president and her struggles adapting to the scrutiny and obligations of political life. She has strictly limited her appearances at political events during Mr. Obama’s time in office, agreeing to them only when she believes her presence could have a major impact on a race.

That, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers say, enhances the first lady’s effectiveness as a voice for their candidate. She is widely known and liked by Americans — her approval rating was at 58 percent in July, according to Gallup — but seen as removed from politics and partisanship.

Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Clinton were once adversaries — Mrs. Obama took umbrage in private during the 2008 Democratic primary race at Mrs. Clinton’s criticisms of her husband — but their goals are now inextricably aligned.

Mrs. Obama “is a very trusted voice who has not seemed to have an agenda, and someone whose husband ran against Hillary and is now a big believer in her, so those words coming from Michelle Obama are especially meaningful,” said Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

The first lady has also demonstrated a knack for using pop culture and social media to appeal to the core coalition that propelled her husband to the White House — young voters, minorities and single women. Those elements will also be part of her push for Mrs. Clinton, aides said, though they declined to detail her itinerary because it is still developing.

“She’s able to speak in an honest and relatable way that the American people can connect with,” said Jennifer Psaki, Mr. Obama’s communications director and a strategist on his presidential campaigns.

That is the part of her job that Mrs. Obama has always said she relishes the most. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, a politics junkie and policy wonk who as first lady wanted an office in the West Wing and led Bill Clinton’s health care task force, Mrs. Obama has avoided hard-edged debates. She has instead prioritized more universally popular causes such as her “Let’s Move” campaign for healthy eating and exercise, the Joining Forces initiative to support veterans and their families, and her “Let Girls Learn” effort to expand educational opportunity for women and girls.

“When Barack was talking about running, I was like, ‘Are you crazy?’ — I mean, ‘would you just, like chill out and do something else with your life,’” Mrs. Obama told Oprah Winfrey in June during an appearance in Washington. During their discussion, the first lady said she had determined early on to “protect my time” jealously, and was looking forward to the day when she could finally leave her home without consulting the Secret Service.

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Source: The New York Times | JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS