Reporting from Washington — Making her campaign debut in Wisconsin on Wednesday, Michelle Obama found common cause with the vulnerable Democrat she came to support, Sen. Russell D. Feingold.
"When my husband was here in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, he talked about how independent and outspoken Russ is, and how Russ doesn't always agree with him. So Russ, you and I have a little something in common," the first lady joked.
Feingold is the first Democratic candidate this year to benefit from a political stop by Mrs. Obama, who in her 20 months in the White House had limited her profile to nonpartisan issues like promoting healthy lifestyles and support for military families.
Because her personal favorability ratings far outpace most other political figures, Democrats hope the first lady can offer a late boost for candidates struggling to keep their seats in a volatile climate. Feingold, a three-term incumbent, trails Republican foe Ron Johnson in most recent polls.
In her speech, Mrs. Obama made a softer appeal to voters than the decidedly more partisan one her husband has delivered, focusing on her self-described role as the "mom in chief."
"I don't do this very often," she said. "My first priority has been making sure that my girls are happy and healthy and adjusting to a very interesting new life in the White House."
From that perspective as a mother, not the wife of the president, she talked about the struggles Americans – particularly those in the middle class -- have gone through during the economic downturn.
"Folks all over the country were worrying that maybe that fundamental American promise was being broken – and worse yet, that no one in Washington was listening. And that is why my husband ran for president in the first place," she said.
She did tick off some of her husband's accomplishments – tax cuts for the middle class, credit card and education reform, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. On health reform, she said her husband "refused to take the easy route," and invoked his mother's battle with breast cancer, and insurance companies.
"These are just some examples of the kind of changes that we're making. And the truth is, it's because of all of you -- it's because of strong leaders like Russ -- that so much has been accomplished in such a short period of time," she said.
She acknowledged the challenges still to come, and the impatience of many at the pace of recovery. But she recalled the excitement that surrounded her husband's election and inauguration to say that today there is still a chance "to change the country we love for the better."
"If you keep standing with Russ, and bringing folks together for Russ, if you're still as fired up and ready to go as you were two years ago, then I know that we can keep that movement going," she said.
The fundraiser for Feingold in Wisconsin was the first in a series of campaign stops in the coming weeks for the first lady. From Milwaukee she travels to Chicago for events with Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias and congressional candidates. From there, she will spend a week traveling to Colorado, Connecticut, New York, Washington state and California.
She and her husband will also make a rare joint campaign appearance in Ohio on Sunday.
Responding to the first lady's visit, Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus focused on Feingold.
"A parade of D.C. insiders probably isn't the best tactic for a candidate trying to prove that he hasn't 'gone Washington' over the last 18 years," he said in a statement.