First Lady Shielded By Popularity

Michelle Obama took a lot of criticism during the 2008 presidential campaign, but Republican strategists agree that her high approval ratings probably place her off limits this time around.

“Michelle Obama’s untouchable at this point, politically,” Matt Mackowiak, GOP strategist and president of Potomac Strategy Group LLC, told The Hill.

“That’s not to say that the [GOP] base holds her in high esteem; I don’t think they do,” he added. “Activists see her negatively in some cases, but that’s not going to be a part of the campaign.”

Ford O’Connell, chairman and co-founder of CivicForumPAC and a GOP strategist, agreed.

“Targeting her in a negative light is not good because I think it could fire up the base, and the question is, how does it play with independent women? Independent women don’t really like negative campaigning all that much,” O’Connell said.

The first lady weathered a storm of negative press during her husband’s initial run for the White House. While his likability soared, she was attacked from the right in ways she said sought to portray her as “an angry black woman.”

According to O’Connell, courting female independents is a key factor in the Republican strategy to avoid going after the first lady.

He said Michelle Obama’s job in the campaign is to pry some independent female voters away from Romney “with respect to women’s health issues and the health of our children.”

O’Connell acknowledge that the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, aimed at decreasing childhood obesity, had made her a conservative target of late. But for the political right to venture much beyond that narrow topic would not be advisable, he said.

“Attacking her and painting a portrait of her outside of pushing for the nanny state at an even greater rate is I’m not sure going to be a very winning strategy for the GOP,” O’Connell said.

If the first lady does make a misstep while on the campaign trail, all her popularity won’t save her from a conservative onslaught, GOP strategists said.

“It’s clear that a majority of Americans like her and they find her favorable, but that doesn’t mean that if she strays from the message, she can’t be criticized,” O’Connell said.

“Obviously her mission right now is to stay on message and ride her star power … Right now it’s a smart strategy,” O’Connell said. “As long as she stays on message, I don’t think she’s going to hurt [President Obama]. The question is whether or not she’ll help him.”

Read more from Debbie Siegelbaum at The Hill

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published this page in In The News 2012-06-12 10:00:00 -0400
Analysis & Political Strategy