The same thing that made Michelle Obama such a powerful voice for Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention makes it unlikely she’ll spend a huge amount of time on the campaign trail or, heaven forbid, run for president: She’s just not a political animal.
That’s sorry news to delegates who were moved to tears by the first lady’s nailed-it speech at the convention Monday night, where she delivered a compelling argument for Clinton’s election from the perspective of Sasha and Malia’s mom and also managed to skewer Donald Trump without uttering his name.
Before the first lady’s speech, New York’s Daily News tweeted out its planned front page, focused on Clinton-Sanders discord. Three hours later, the paper tweeted: “Stop the Presses! New front … THE LADY IS HER CHAMP. @Flotus speech brings down the house.”
Creative twittering commenced, involving the hashtags #ElectMichelle, #FLOTUSforPOTUS and #Obama2020.
Martha McKenna, a former political director for Senate Democrats, said it looked like Mrs. Obama was having fun on the stage, “so I’m hopeful that that’s a sign that means that she’s going to keep doing it.”
Yes, and no.
Although Mrs. Obama is expected to campaign for Clinton, the White House has not set expectations high for a rigorous pace.
The first lady said early on in her husband’s tenure, “Politics is important … but it’s not who I am and it’s never been a goal of mine.”
She has strict rules about how much time she spends on the road, sets her schedule well in advance and sticks to it.
This is how the first lady explained her agreement with the Democratic political team during the 2012 midterm elections:
“My approach to campaigning is: ‘This is the time that I have to give to the campaign and whatever you do with that time is up to you, but when it’s over, don’t even look at me. … No calls. No anything.’”
Aside from her convention appearance, Mrs. Obama has barely engaged in the 2016 campaign and has resisted positioning herself as a distinct political figure. She was notably silent when Clinton clinched the nomination, letting the historic moment pass without comment. When her husband endorsed Clinton, the first lady’s office said the president’s words stood for her, too.
The two women share bonds forged in the elite membership of the first ladies’ club, and Mrs. Obama made a number of appearances with Clinton during her time as secretary of state.
Tina Tchen, Mrs. Obama’s chief of staff, said the two have a “very warm relationship.” But there is little evidence of a close friendship.
Even with a limited campaign schedule, the first lady can be a powerful political asset, her appeal enhanced by her largely apolitical image. She’s been a huge draw at fundraisers in elections past. And she can do Clinton good even in non-political settings.
For example, Mrs. Obama took on Trump in a June commencement address at the City College of New York, denouncing leaders who engage in “name-calling” and “anger and intolerance.”
Democratic pollster Mark Mellman described the first lady as “the most popular person who will appear on that stage” in Philadelphia, “more popular, for better or worse, than President Obama or Hillary Clinton.”
A Gallup survey this month found Mrs. Obama favorably regarded by 58 percent of Americans, with especially high favorability numbers among younger voters, non-whites and women.
There are limits to her powers of persuasion, though.
Cleo Dioletis, a Sanders delegate from Colorado, called Mrs. Obama’s speech “beautiful” and said she’d love to see her run for president.
But the first lady’s appearance didn’t move Dioletis one inch closer to voting for Hillary Clinton, whom she loathes.
As for talk of political aspirations for the first lady herself, her husband has a big bucket of cold water at the ready.
The president told a town hall earlier this year: “There are three things that are certain in life: Death, taxes and Michelle is not running for president.”
AP Writers Darlene Superville in Washington, Jocelyn Noveck in Washington, Nicholas Riccardi in Denver, Bill Barrow in Atlanta, and Kathleen Hennessey, Erica Werner and Ken Thomas in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac