President Barack Obama, suffering from low popularity of late, has remained largely absent from the campaign trail — while the first lady has attended dozens of rallies, fundraisers and round tables in at least ten states.
With nine days to go until election day, speculation has mounted as to why the president has been hands-off when it comes to campaigning, and whether Michelle Obama can influence the vote.
With Obama's approval ratings hovering in the low forties, some say he's strategically staying out of contested states. His thin campaigning schedule has been limited to mostly gubernatorial elections in deep blue states.
"The president is not really wanted by Democrats even in states that he carried in 2008 and 2012," Chris Cillizza, a political reporter for The Washington Post said on Nightly News in early-October.
"First Ladies, by definition, have less baggage. They are seen as less political."
But when White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked if the president was "hiding" from the mid-term election campaign trail, he answered: "The President has been focused on some pretty core national security priorities in the last several weeks. And that is always going to come first when you’re the Commander-in-Chief of the United States."
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Whether or not the president isn't wanted by candidates in his own party, Michelle Obama has picked up the campaigning baton, attending 14 campaign events in nine different states in October alone, according to her schedule.
"A number of recent first ladies have remained popular with the American people even as their husbands’ approval ratings have gone into decline," said Katherine Jellison, an expert on women in politics at Ohio University. "Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Laura Bush, and now Michelle Obama are all obvious examples of very able campaigners who could draw positive crowds in places where their husbands were no longer welcome," Jellison added.
Carolyn Ryan, Washington Bureau Chief and Political Editor for The New York Times, told NBC News that the reason Michelle Obama, and past first ladies, might be considered more effective than their husbands on the campaign trail is that "First Ladies, by definition, have less baggage. They are seen as less political."
But that doesn't mean Michelle Obama is immune from gaffes that most politicians inevitably make at some point or another. At a rally for Bruce Braley, the democratic candidate for the Senate in Iowa, Michelle Obama mispronounced the candidates name, calling him "Bailey" seven times, according to White House transcripts.
And at a campaign event for Democratic candidate for Senate Mark Udall in Colorado, she said Udall was a "fifth-generation Coloradan," according to White House transcripts, although he was born in Arizona. Corey Gardner, the Republican candidate, is a fifth-generation Coloradan, according to his biography.
Small mistakes notwithstanding, Stu Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report said "a First Lady may swing a handful of votes," but "I can't think of a first lady who has had a dramatic effect on the election."
"At the end of the day, most voters are going to vote on the basis of their party or their mood — not whether or not they like the president's wife," Rothenberg said.