White House Cheat Sheet: Michelle Obama Steps Out
Michelle Obama will travel to Fort Bragg (N.C.) military base to meet with military families and sit for her first network television interview with ABC's Robin Roberts today, two signs of an increased public presence for the first lady as her husband crests the 50-day mark in office.
These events come on the heels of her appearance at the State Department on Wednesday to celebrate the "Women of Courage" awards. At that event, Michelle Obama made clear the central role she believes women play in a prospering society. "The difference between a broken community and a thriving one is the presence of women who are valued," she said. "Where relationships among women and between women and men are based on mutual respect."
To date, Obama has largely limited herself to touring various agencies and departments around Washington, thanking the employees for their service and pledging a new day in the nation's capitol.
But, with this series of events, she appears ready to step out as a more forceful advocate for her husband and his policies.
"Her ability to get out of Washington and to go on TV and connect directly with voters is an important asset while the President is often tied down with the messy business of governing," explained one senior level Democratic party strategist.
Polling suggests a more active role for Michelle Obama will be greeted warmly by the public. In a January Washington Post/ABC News survey, 72 percent of those polled said they had a favorable impression toward the First Lady while just 17 percent felt unfavorably toward her.
While Michelle Obama has downplayed her role in her husband's administration, it's not hard to see the extremely influential role she plays in his public and private life.
Witness the president's comments Wednesday after signing an executive order establishing a White House Council on Women and Girls. Obama praised his wife as the "rock" of the family, citing the "skill and grace" with which she approached balancing her work and her family.
"I can't imagine a better sounding board for the President than Michelle," said Jennifer Burton, a Democratic party strategist. Burton praised the first lady's decision to not engage deeply yet on the policy and political fronts, arguing that it "gives her good perspective and an ability to give him an alternate opinion."
Michelle Obama's emergence is not without potential peril, however. Remember that in the early days of her husband's presidential campaign she was front and center before she made comments regarding her pride in America -- we are paraphrasing -- that Republicans seized on and led to a diminution in her public advocacy.
First ladies -- from Eleanor Roosevelt to Hillary Rodham Clinton to Laura Bush -- have each approached the job differently and with varying levels of success. Fifty days in, it is still too early to determine what approach Michelle Obama will take, and her place in that long lineage remains up in the air.
RNC Picks Head Honcho: Ken McKay will be announced today as the new executive director at the Republican National Committee, according to sources familiar with the move. McKay came to prominence as campaign manager for Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri's (R) 2002 victory; he went on to serve as chief of staff to Carcieri from 2003 to 2006 and then managed Carcieri's reelection win. A source close to the decision painted McKay's ability to guide a candidate to victory in one of the most Democratic states in the country as well as his experience at the state level as the major selling points for McKay.
Thursday Must-Reads: Thursday is the Fix's favorite day of the week. It's like brunch -- not quite breakfast, not quite lunch but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end.
1. Louisiana Sen. David Vitter tries to make a plane, opens security door, all heck breaks loose. The incumbent, who is already a major Democratic target in 2010, isn't helping himself any.
2. Ramesh Ponnuru argues that Rush Limbaugh's increasingly high profile in national politics is good for Republicans looking for an identity.
3. Shira Toeplitz (of Roll Call) goes inside the Pennsylvania voter registration numbers and concludes that Sen. Arlen Specter (R) is in deep trouble.
4. Sports Illustrated on Alaska's "First Dude" and the Iron Dog.
5. Former NBA great Dave Bing exaggerated his educational credentials -- on camera. Not good especially when you are in a runoff to be the mayor of Detroit.
National Committees Weigh In On NY-20: With the special election in New York's 20th district now just three weeks away, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee are both spending money on television ads in the race. According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, the DCCC has dropped $148,000 in independent expenditures on the contest for ads produced by Ralston-Lapp, a Democratic consulting firm in which John Lapp, a former executive director of the DCCC, is a partner. The NRCC, meanwhile, has spent nearly $200,000 on the race so far including more than $146,000 earlier this week for a television buy attacking Democratic nominee Scott Murphy. Democrats believe Murphy has the momentum, pointing to a Benenson Strategy Group poll that showed him trailing state Assemblyman Jim Tedisco by just seven points. An internal poll conducted for Murphy that came out of the field very recently mirrored the results of the Benenson poll, according to those briefed on the results. Ken Spain, communications director for the NRCC, insisted that his committee expected the race to tighten, noting that now Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) held the seat in 2006 and 2008 and that President Obama won it last fall.
Conant Moves On: Alex Conant, who kept the Republican National Committee press shop afloat -- and on the attack against Obama -- during the tumultuous transition between chairmen earlier this year, is stepping aside. Conant will remain a senior adviser to the RNC but will also return to his newspaper roots (he was the editor of the student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin) by doing some writing and consulting on the side. The Fix's favorite Conant memory? Meeting his dad at the Republican National Convention as Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh Steelers great and 2006 gubernatorial candidate, looked on.
Failor to Succeed in Iowa? Ed Failor Jr., a prominent Republican activist in Iowa, is weighing a run for governor in 2010 against Democratic Gov. Chet Culver. "About a month ago I was approached by some folks who I respect and trust who
suggested I should consider a run," said Failor. "That is what I am doing." Failor is currently the president of Iowans for Tax Relief and during the 2008 Iowa presidential caucuses was a coveted endorser. (He backed Sen. John McCain before stepping aside from the campaign in the summer of 2008 following the resignations of campaign manager Terry Nelson and senior adviser John Weaver.) It's not immediately clear whether Culver is truly vulnerable. He pummeled then Rep. Jim Nussle (R) by 10 points in 2006 and President Obama won the state by nine points last fall. If Failor does run, expect all the presidential wannabes to come under serious pressure to back him as a down payment on a 2012 endorsement.
Click It!: Super-villain Lex Luthor (a.k.a. actor Jon Hamm) asks President Obama for a bailout. So good.
Say What?: "That means it's none of your g--d--- business. If you paid the 20 grand for the poll, you can get some information out of it." -- Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, as only he can, tells local reporters he won't be releasing results of a recent internal poll.
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