WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama is jumping into the midterm political fray in a big way: She'll headline at least nine fundraisers in six states next month for endangered Democrats.
And it's no surprise that the Democrats are anxious to use the first lady's star power: Polls show she's more popular than her husband, President Barack Obama.
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. Feingold, in a tough re-election fight and slightly behind his opponent in spending, instead opted to attend a parade in his hometown about 60 miles away. He's also not expected to attend the president's rally in Madison next week because the Senate will be in session.
Overall, the first lady's political schedule tells the tale of the 2010 midterm elections: She's raising money for candidates who are trying to defend embattled Democratic turf, not stumping for challengers trying to make inroads in Republican terrain.
But don't expect Mrs. Obama to go negative against GOP challengers.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Mrs. Obama is "a popular 'ask' on the campaign trail and I think she will go out and make a forceful and positive case" for the administration's achievements.
In addition to Feingold, those Mrs. Obama will be campaigning for include Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Patty Murray of Washington, Barbara Boxer of California and Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias of Illinois, who is trying to hold the Senate seat once held by Barack 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, Oct. 13-27, and aides said more political events are sure to be added, especially in the final week before the Nov. 2 elections.
The first lady's campaign schedule includes three days in California, where Boxer proclaimed herself "thrilled" to have the first lady's help. Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Boxer's opponent, Republican Carly Fiorina, countered that it was a sign of how nervous Democrats are about Boxer's seat "that they are forced to send in reinforcements."
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. As for 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.
"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."
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.
As for Mrs. Obama, "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 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."
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville in Washington, Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis., and July Lin in Sacramento, Calif., contributed to this report.