'Mom-in-Chief' Hits the Campaign Trail

Countering "Mama Grizzlies," Michelle Obama plays up role as mother.

Oct. 13, 2010 — -- Republicans have had their "Mama Grizzlies" in 2010. But today Democrats brought out the "Mom-in-Chief."

First lady Michelle Obama hit the campaign trail in what has been a tough year for her party, a year in which Democrats, who normally have a 10 point advantage with women, struggle among women voters.

Calling herself "Mom-in-Chief," the first lady, speaking at a fundraiser in Wisconsin for Sen. Russ Feingold, made the argument that Democrats are the ones to stick up for children and families. Her stepped-up role could help Democrats combat the narrative pushed by Sarah Palin and others that 2010 would be the year of the Republican woman. She pointed to the first bill the president signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- which sought to secure fair pay for women. She emphasized that for the first time this year, thanks to her husband's nominations, three female Supreme Court justices sit on the high court's bench.

"More than anything else, I come at this as a mom," Michelle Obama said at the Feingold event. "When I think about the issues facing our nation, I think about what it means for my girls ... and I think about what it means for the world we're leaving for them and for all our children. As I travel around this country, and look into the eyes of every single child I meet, I see what's at stake. "

"She has her own identity I think that appeals to a lot of people in the state," Feingold told ABC's Sharyn Alfonsi Tuesday. "I'm constantly hearing my sisters and other people say the one I really want to meet is Michelle Obama. So it provides a really fun boost."

Feingold could certainly use the first lady's help. He is one of the most-endangered sitting Democrats in the country. Polls show him behind Republican businessman Ron Johnson, even though Wisconsin voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in 2008. Wisconsin is also home to three of the most competitive House races.

While Wisconsin is Michelle Obama's first campaign stop of the year, before Election Day, she will have also visited Illinois, California, Washington, Ohio and Pennsylvania, often appearing with the president. In all but Ohio, Democrats have been struggling to keep Senate seats on their side of the aisle.

For the latest on the election and the races in play, visit ABC's election map

Republicans have gone to great lengths to highlight their female candidates this election cycle. Republican women are leading or running strong in several governors' races -- in California, South Carolina and New Mexico -- and competing fiercely in Senate races in New Hampshire, Delaware and California. Democrats stress that the total number of women in Congress is likely to decline next year, no matter how well Republican female candidates do.

Can Michelle Connect Where Her Husband Cannot?

The first lady's focus on her role as a mom is smart, said Cokie Roberts, ABC News' political commentator.

"If he can't connect," Roberts said of the president, "maybe she can."

Big-name Democrats, such as former President Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and Obama himself, have been criss-crossing the country in recent months, trying to close the enthusiasm gap as Democrats guard against what many prognosticators see as an inevitable electoral wave against them Nov. 2.

Roberts said that where the president comes across as the cerebral constitutional law professor, the first lady's 2010 stump speech is "very much the anti-Obama."

There is a perception that first ladies are somehow above the political fray, that they often get higher approval ratings than their spouses and are less divisive.

The perception is wrong, said Roberts.

"First ladies are good at campaigning," she said. "They bring a humanity to the candidate, particularly candidates like Barack Obama, who are cerebral and very smart and can talk about political theory at great length. But that doesn't do it for someone who is out of a job or whose child can't afford to pay their student loans."

Laura Bush Not Above Political Fray

Roberts pointed to the political role that Laura Bush played as first lady.

The perception that she was the nice librarian, when in fact she was the only first lady to go to the press room and speak at the podium and call for the overthrow of the Burmese government. Hardly pouring tea," said Roberts.