Like many other presidential spouses, Michelle Obama has helped to evolve the role of First Lady. Over time, the duties of this position have changed from being White House hostess to far more; a campaign surrogate and an advocate for specialized causes. Being a first lady is one position in politics that changes to fit the woman who holds it. This week, the First Lady headed to key Midwestern states to campaign for her husband. Spouses have become popular representatives of their wives or husbands during important elections.
Michelle Obama visited Colorado and Arizona on Monday as part of a four state tour (CNN). Last year the Obama campaign briefed reporters on their strategies to focus on a “Western” path and a “Florida” path to victory. In regard to the “Western” path, campaigners argued the importance of battleground states like Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico- all of which the First Lady will be visiting. One factor that will be pertinent in the fight to win Arizona is the state’s significant Latino population, a demographic with whom the president has almost a 50 point lead over Romney. According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, Latinos make up 12% of Arizona voters. This is a 23.2% increase since 2008. This population is the fastest growing in the United States and Latino voter turnout has been steadily increasing.
According to CBS News, recent polls have suggested Romney and Obama both have a “slim edge” over Arizona. This has created extra incentive for the Democrats to pursue the “Western” path. As First Lady, Obama will spend much of her time attending campaign events in these states and giving speeches. A study called “Spouses as Campaign Surrogates: Strategic Appearances by Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates’ Wives in the 2004 Election” analyzes use of wives in campaigning and shows that wives are often used strategically, being sent to battleground states and making more appearances closer to election day (MacManus & Quecan, p.346).
Historically, presidential wives have helped win elections by highlighting specific issues and helping to reach select portions of the electorate. In addition to helping in campaigns, First Ladies have pioneered important causes and gained respect as being influential spokeswomen. This biography of First Ladies highlights how Betty Ford fought for the Equal Rights Amendment and was a voice for breast cancer awareness, how Nancy Reagan campaigned against drug abuse, and how Hillary Clinton was appointed to chair a committee on health care reform just days after her husband’s inauguration.
Mrs. Obama has chosen to spend the last four years supporting her husband’s policy decisions and promoting healthy living, organic food, and a reduction in childhood obesity. In speeches at events across the country she has focused on support of military families, helping working women balance career and family, and encouraging national service. Her interests in organic food and health led to the creation of a national campaign to end childhood obesity called “Let’s Move!” Due to her efforts in these areas, her personal style and charisma, and her impressive resume, Michelle Obama has become extremely popular with the public. Her “approval ratings eclipse her husband’s and stand at nearly 70 percent.”
Through her impressive rise in popularity it is obvious that Michelle Obama is an excellent representative for the Obama Campaign. The “Spouses as Campaign Surrogates” study also poses the idea that “the ability of their [candidates] spouses to act as surrogates” is of considerable importance and can even be compared to the position of vice president, which is a position that has increasingly come to rely on the selection of a running mate who would serve as a good surrogate on the campaign trail. In approaching the “Western” path by sending Michelle Obama, one of their most popular surrogates, the Obama campaign has made it clear that they believe they can win these states and that the First Lady will help them to do so.