DES MOINES, IA – Election morning in Iowa I had the chance to sit down and chat with two prominent members of the Tea Party in Des Moines Iowa about the campaign. The conversation quickly moved from the candidates themselves (Romney, what else can you say about that guy?) to the candidate’s wives and the roles they play in the campaign. We pointed out that Ron Paul’s wife is almost non-existent on the campaign trail, yet he’s surging, but at the same time Mitt Romney’s wife is considered his ‘secret weapon’ to humanize him in the eyes of regular voters.
Predictably, the conversation soon turned to Barack Obama and how Michelle might fare in the eyes of voters. I had the following exchange with one of the Tea Party reps, a White female lawyer in her mid 30’s.
“Michelle Obama, I just find her…just awful. She’s awful. She really needs to dress better.”
“What do you mean, I mean, she dresses just like everyone else. Her clothes look like anything you’d find at Nordstrom’s.”
“She’s always showing off so much skin. I mean … all the sleeveless outfits and shirts. She needs to put some clothes on. It’s really inappropriate for a first lady.”
I’ll be honest with you, Michelle has her fair share of haters, but I never expected a 30 something year old woman to be on the morality tip when it came to the first lady. In general, Michelle Obama is pretty popular, beating her husband’s approval rating on a regular basis. Michelle ended 2011 with an average approval rating in the mid 60’s while Obama’s approval through the year hovered in the low 40’s. In addition, I always felt like Michelle Obama’s “realness” was an antidote to those that were skeptical of Barack Obama’s rosy outlook on life in the 2008 campaign. I considered her “Aunt Viv” act to be the perfect complement to his “Uncle Phil” act. Now I realize that these were the words of a Tea Party activist, but the conversation in general still got me thinking: What will Michelle really be able to contribute to Obama’s re-election efforts in 2012?
We’ve already seen the president stumble to galvanize Black voters and his base for the election. Will the words of a world-weary travelling Michelle Obama, who isn’t known to be the warmest of campaigners, do him good … or ill?
No presidential election has ever hung on the performance of a first spouse, positively or negatively, so to a certain extent these are academic questions. However, the president will need all of the support he can muster in order to get women, Blacks and young people back into the fold and back into the voting booth. While I’m sure that most independent voters let alone most sane Republicans aren’t fretting about the type of clothes Michelle wears it’s still important to consider. This woman may be the key to Obama’s election chances in some key areas and any criticism of her, any way in which she can be seen as anything other than an asset to his success, is something worth pondering come the heavy campaign season of 2012
Dr. Jason Johnson, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson