First Lady Michelle Obama returned to her hometown Chicago Wednesday to help raise nearly $400,000 for the state’s Democratic congressional candidates and to cast her early votes for the Democrat seeking to fill her husband’s former Senate seat.
“I’m thrilled to be back in my hometown, Chicago,” she told a crowd of 200 donors at Chicago’s University Club attending a fundraiser for Democrat Alexi Giannoulias. “I get to sleep in my own bed tonight.”
Giannoulias is vying for President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat, which is currently occupied by Sen. Roland Burris. Burris, who was appointed by controversial ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, opted not to run for a full term in 2010.
Michelle Obama’s swing through Illinois as part of the Democrats’ “Blue Illinois 2010” push was her first day on the first real aggressive campaign/fundraising tour she’s been on in the White House.
“This is my first day out on the campaign trail,” she said. “This is not something I do very often.”
But it’s something she’ll probably be doing a lot more of in the near future. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Wednesday showed that she has a 65 percent approval rating – some 20 points higher than her husband’s.
Michelle Obama has come a long way since the 2008 presidential campaign, when some surveys revealed that some white men found her intimidating or angry-looking or complained about her well-sculpted arms.
In the CNN poll, 60 percent of men, 71 percent of women, and 79 percent of non-whites gave her job performance high marks. Ninety percent of Democrats, 61 percent of political independents, and 39 percent of Republicans approved of how she’s conducting her job.
Along ideological lines, the first lady scored an 82 percent approval rating among liberals, 73 percent among moderates and 50 percent among conservatives.
“Not surprisingly, the first lady is extremely popular among Democrats, but she is also well-liked among independents,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Nine in 10 Democrats approve of how she is handling her job, and six in 10 independents agree.”
Her popularity – and star power – helped haul in $400,000 Wednesday for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and incumbent Reps. Deborah Halvorson and Bill Foster earlier in the day, Democratic Party sources told Talking Points Memo.
People paid $500 to $10,000 per couple to attend the Giannoulias event, the proceeds of which go to Giannoulias and other Illinois candidates. Among the luminaries in attendance were outgoing Sen. Burris, Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Bobby Rush and former State Sen. Emil Jones, a mentor of the president when he was in the Illinois state house.
The first lady had the poise of a seasoned campaign pro Wednesday, echoing many of the themes her husband expressed when he rolled through Chicago to campaign on behalf of Giannoulias, whose campaign isn’t taking contributions from federal lobbyists or political action committees.
“The way he’s running this campaign, a campaign supported by the folks who are actually going to be the people he serves … I know he will be a phenomenal senator,” Obama said of Giannoulias, a basketball-playing pal of the president’s. “We have seen him grow.”
Giannoulias is locked in a tight race against Republican Mark Kirk. According to a RealClearPolitics.com average of major polls, Giannoulias holds a miniscule 0.5 percentage point lead over Kirk. Democratic Party officials would view it as an embarrassment if the GOP took the Senate seat the president once held.
“My husband can’t do this alone,” Michelle Obama said. “He needs leaders like Alexi by his side. And we need folks like all of you to make that happen. We need you to make those phone calls for Alexi. We need you to knock on those doors for this handsome young man … people will vote for him.”
The first lady said she’s going to do her part to prevent that from happening by participating in early voting Thursday morning (10-14-10). – BlackAmericaWeb