Michelle Obama Makes Appeal to Women Voters, Co-Hosts 'The View'

Potential first lady attempts to soften image, co-hosts "The View".

June 18, 2008 — -- Michelle Obama makes her debut appearance on ABC's "The View" Wednesday as her husband, presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, fights for key women voters.

Her appearance on a popular women's daytime television program coincides with subtle attempts by the Obama campaign to soften her image and combat efforts by some conservatives and critics to paint her as an unpatriotic, angry, black woman.

Obama, 44, would become the nation's first African American first lady if her husband wins the White House in November, and one of the youngest since Jackie Kennedy.

Obama's 'View'

Mrs. Obama co-hosts the program Wednesday alongside regulars including Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck who grilled Obama's husband on the show last March for their association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

"She needs to relax, show she has a sense of humor and is someone who can laugh at herself," said Myra Gutin, a first lady historian at New Jersey's Rider University and author of the 1989 book The President's Partner: The First Lady in the 20th Century.

Michelle Obama is viewed more favorably by likely voters than Cindy McCain, 48 percent to 39 percent, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. But while Obama leads in favorability, many voters say they haven't formed an opinion yet of McCain, and slightly more voters also view Obama unfavorably -- 29 percent vs. McCain's 25 percent.

Obama has attracted considerably more attention than McCain, sparking conservative outrage when she said at a Wisconsin rally early in the primaries her husband's candidacy was "the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country."

She later clarified her remarks, but the tape has been used in a Tennessee GOP online video criticizing her, and has been replayed numerous times on cable television.

Her campaign also launched an anti-smear website last week to combat false rumors circulating on the Internet, including an untrue claim by a blogger supportive of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's '08 bid that she made an accusatory speech at her church against "whitey."

Fox News Channel depicted her fist "dap" with her husband the night he won the nomination as a "terrorist fist jab" and later identified Michelle Obama with the urban slang "Obama's Baby Mama." Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin called her "his bitter half," and the conservative National Review depicted Michelle Obama with an angry scowl on their cover calling her "Mrs. Grievance."

Reintroducing Herself to Voters

Obama canceled a scheduled December appearance on the "The View", refusing to cross a picket line during the writer's strike. Cindy McCain, wife of Republican nominee Sen. John McCain guest-hosted in April and Michelle Obama told executive producer Bill Geddie that she'd like to do the same.

"It will be, for many, the first real introduction to the woman who may be our next First Lady," Geddie told the New York Daily News.

Her campaign staff told ABC News she hasn't really been preparing for the show, but was "brushing up" on Matthew Broderick, the show's celebrity guest interview, and refreshing her memory of Broderick's "Ferris Bueller" movie shot in Chicago, which Sen. Obama represents.

Onstage, Barack Obama has introduced his wife as "his rock" -- the one who keeps him grounded and focused.

Over the next five months, Obama will appear at campaign events across the country, delivering a new, big-crowd campaign speech highlighting her working-class, Chicago roots.

"She's going to introduce her husband and her family to voters so that people can really get a chance to know them, how they're raising their daughters, how they make decisions, and who he has been over the last 20 years that she has known him," an Obama campaign aide told ABC News.

Michelle Obama Hires New Chief of Staff

She has hired a new chief of staff with a sharp reputation. Stephanie Cutter, a veteran of Sen. John Kerry's 2004 campaign who has worked for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will lead Michelle Obama's team.

She is also a key component of her husband's effort to woo the strong base of women voters that supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

An aide said she will continue meeting with women in roundtable discussions about balancing work and family. She will focus more in coming months on military wives, who face additional pressures when their spouses are deployed overseas.

Obama has always been quick to point out, however, her priority throughout the campaign has been her daughters, Maila, 8, and Sasha, 6.

Obama, who took a leave from her lucrative job as a vice-president for a Chicago hospital, schedules campaign events around her daughters' schedules.

She is on the campaign trail no more than two to four days out of the week, an aide says, and tries to be home to take the girls to school or camp. Michelle Obama's 70-year-old mother, Marian Robinson, who lives five minutes away from the Obama's $1.65 million house in Chicago, takes care of the girls.

Obama has a degree in sociology from Princeton and attended Harvard Law School. She met Obama when she was assigned as his mentor at a Chicago corporate law firm.

She hasn't been shy about speaking her mind on the campaign trial -- even disclosing there was "tension and stress" in her marriage when Obama became a senator. She speaks openly on the campaign trail about the challenges on working families and the pressures on working mothers.

If her husband is elected president, she will be one of the few women to have young children as a first lady.

"I see Michelle Obama taking advantage of more of the opportunities of the White House, making speeches on causes important to her, and see Cindy McCain taking on a more traditional, supportive spouse role," Gutin said.

Fighting for the Women's Vote

Both women have become important to their husband's bid to attract women voters, estimated to represent 54 percent of the electorate this year.

McCain stepped up his efforts to attract Clinton's supporters, complimenting her "inspiring" primary bid and promising over the weekend to increase the number of women in government if he is elected president.

Sen. Obama countered this week, telling ABC News' Jake Tapper McCain has "been on the wrong side" of women's issues throughout his career, pointing to McCain's opposition to abortion and his failure to vote on a recent Senate bill legislating against workplace discrimination of women.

Clinton won 52 percent of women voters to Obama's 43 percent over the five-month Democratic primary contests. However Obama appears to be making up some of that ground in the general election, primarily because more women tend to be Democrats.

Barack Obama leads John McCain among women likely voters 13 percentage points in last week's Gallup poll and 19 percentage points in the the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

However among married white women, McCain has a 20-point advantage (56-36) over Barack Obama, according to Tuesday's ABC News/Washington Post poll -- a "danger sign" for Obama said ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Tuesday on "Good Morning America."

"This is a huge gap that Obama has to close if he's going to do well," Stephanopoulos said, while noting that President Bush won this voting group in 2000 and 2004.

ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Bret Hovell contributed to this report.