HUFFINGTONPOST.COM - After three years as America's Mom-In-Chief, First Lady Michelle Obama is ready for a fight.
The 2012 presidential election is "another battle, and I am looking forward to doing it," Obama told a packed house of Democratic donors in Chicago on Tuesday. "I'm going to be walking around, running around this country for the next 12 months making sure people understand what's at stake."
Over the coming year, Obama is poised to set a new precedent for American first ladies, doing more than any first lady before her to help ensure that the president is reelected. Armed with a sharper message in recent weeks, Obama bears little resemblance to the reluctant campaigner of early 2008, who was fond of telling donors that initially, she "wasn't exactly thrilled by the idea" of her husband running for president.
Since mid-May, the first lady has headlined 23 fundraisers for the Democratic party, 9 of them in the past month alone. That's nearly as many as President Barack Obama himself has done -- his tally stands at 13 since Sept. 30. The first lady's predecessor, Laura Bush, headlined 13 fundraisers for her husband's reelection in all of 2003 combined.
he recent surge in the first lady's fundraising comes at a critical juncture in the overall campaign. The president's attempts to mobilize his Democratic base have been hampered by poor job approval ratings and a do-nothing Congress. Against this dreary political landscape, the first lady is viewed as a ray of sunlight, with favorability ratings that far outshine the president's and those of any would-be Republican challengers.
The Obama campaign declined to publicly discuss the first lady's role in the reelection effort, but officials have characterized it as an evolving one. According to Anita McBride, the former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, "this kind of an aggressive schedule for a first lady indicates that the campaign recognizes how much they really need her and her popularity."
Big Dollars From Big Donors
The first lady's fundraisers benefit the Democratic National Committee, which operates the Obama Victory Fund, an arm of the president's campaign fundraising apparatus. Most of the events are held in Democratic strongholds, including New York City, Rhode Island, Aspen, Colo., Chicago and Los Angeles. Tickets range from $500 to the maximum allowable $38,500, and reports indicate that Mrs. Obama's events have brought millions of dollars to Democratic coffers.
On Thursday, Obama headlined three separate fundraisers in the crucial battleground state of Florida, traversing the entire peninsula in one day for campaign events in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Ft. Lauderdale. The campaign did not release details of how much she raised, but crowd estimates and ticket prices add up to at least $500,000.
In between the Florida fundraisers, Obama was greeted at two airports by children whose schools had won healthy food-related awards. The student events dovetail with the first lady's signature "Let's Move!" initiative to combat childhood obesity, but their scheduling suggests that they were not the main purpose of the trip.
So who picks the tab for a campaign trip with official duties
interspersed? The answer is both the White House and the Obama Victory
Fund, which have divided costs for similar trips the first lady has done
in the past.
Complicated formulas govern the exact breakdown, but in general, the
DNC pays for the portion of a trip that is deemed political, while the
White House, meaning taxpayers, covers the part of the trip that falls
under the heading of "official duties." Press coverage at campaign
events is generally kept to a minimum, but in the case of the Florida
trip, at least one print reporter covered each event. Click here to read more