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Michelle Obama For Senate: Serious Speculation, Or Just Classic Political Trolling?

Michelle Obama

If you believe the media reports, people are speculating about the idea of Michelle Obama running for the Senate in 2016 when Republican Mark Kirk is up for re-election:

First Lady Michelle Obama is everywhere. She’s traveling to China. She’s raising money for Democrats. She’s issuing plaintive tweets seeking the rescue of the kidnapped Nigerian girls.

She’s wading uncharacteristically deep into the Washington political mud pit to defend her school lunch program against Republicans, assailing them last Tuesday for opting to “play politics with our kids’ health.” She struck a similar tone in a New York Timesop-ed two days later, accusing Republicans of trying to “override science” and suggesting they join parents and “put our children’s interests first.”

So what’s with the bolder profile?

Sure,  Obama cares strongly about the things she is doing. That she does care in fact begs another question: Is caring all that’s going on here? Does she have political ambitions that would allow her to pursue an agenda while working to cement her husband’s legacy?

Speculation about a possible political future for Michelle Obama has naturally centered on the White House. But that’s the wrong place — at least for now.

Illinois has a Republican senator, Mark Kirk, and he is up for reelection in 2016. He’ll be formidable, particularly given his brave recovery from a stroke. But Illinois is a heavily Democratic state, and the race could be close.

No Illinois Democratic candidate would bring the star power and nationwide fundraising capacity that Obama would.

She has proven herself a superb speaker on behalf of her pet projects and is now a veteran campaigner for her husband. She’s also remained highly popular — even as the president’s ratings have plummeted.

She could represent the Democrats’ best chance to pick up a desperately needed — and winnable — seat. A December 2012 Public Policy Polling survey put her ahead of Kirk, 51 percent to 40 percent. Democratic leaders’ pressure on her to run  might get intense.

But the most acute pressure could come from within. Anyone who has listened to her speeches, particularly on the campaign trail, understands that she is a dedicated liberal, who believes unreservedly in the power of government to transform lives.

Obama views the battle between Republicans and Democrats as a struggle for the soul of the nation.

“Who are we?” she repeatedly asked while campaigning in 2012. She said the election result would affect the country “for decades.”

Who we are, in Obama’s view, is a nation in which people help each other through the agency of the government. “Will we honor that fundamental belief,” she asked, “that we’re all better off when we work together?”

Can someone who views politics as an historic contest of ideas resist a unique chance to seize an available Senate seat?

A political blogger with NBC’s Chicago affiliate stirs the pot a little more, and I’ve seen this story get some legs on the right from the usual suspects. In the end, though, it strikes me as mostly just mindless speculation.

When Hillary Clinton spent the last year of her husband’s Presidency running for the New York Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, nobody was really surprised. As always, it was kind of a shock at first when someone who had never run for office before in their life dived into a high profile Senate race, but it was not very surprising that Hillary Rodham Clinton was the person who had done it. Throughout her time is First Lady, Clinton had been far more politically active than most of her recent predecessors to the point where she became the point person for the signature piece of legislature of the President’s first two years in office. Before that, she was heavily involved in her husband’s campaign for President, and in his political career in Arkansas. It wasn’t too hard to figure out that she had political ambitions of her own, and the speculation about her running for office after President Clinton left office started well before 2000. When Moynihan announced he wasn’t running for re-election, the idea of Clinton coming to New York to run for the seat in the same manner that Robert F. Kennedy had in 1964 made perfect sense.

We can’t really say the same thing about Michelle Obama. Unlike Hillary, she’s never really given any evidence of having her own political ambitions. Several reports have indicated that she was initially opposed to the idea of President Obama running for President to begin with, being well aware of what it would mean for her and the family’s privacy and ability to live anything resembling a normal life. While she has been active as First Lady on issues such as nutrition and issues involving veterans, it hasn’ t been in the same overtly political way that Clinton was involved during her time in the East Wing. Given that, it seems unlikely that Michelle Obama would be as eager to throw her own hat into the ring in Illinois. Add into that the efforts Mrs. Obama has made to maintain some kind of “normal” childhood for Malia and Sasha, both of whom will be teenagers when President Obama leaves office. Finally, there’s the fact that we’re not even sure that the Obama’s will be living in Chicago after 2016. They still own their home there, of course, but recent speculation has suggested that we’re more likely to see President Obama strolling Central Park than Grant Park in 2017.

Given all of this, this speculation about Michelle Obama running for Senate seems to be mostly just that to me. At the same time, though, it’s likely to drive some of the President’s harshest critics, who seem to hate his wife even more, just batty. And there’s definitely some entertainment value in that.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    Groundless speculation much? But good click bait.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    Well, there are so few Democrats in Chicago I imagine the party is worried about even finding a candidate to run against Kirk.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. al-Ameda says:

    At this point the speculation is interesting and fun, but I have to ask the question: Why not Michelle Obama?
    It is not as if she’s un(or under) qualified to represent Illinois in the Senate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  4. legion says:

    Trolling.

    This has been another episode of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Andre Kenji says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Why not Michelle Obama?

    Frankly, I don´t think that people likes political dynasties. Even if they are a fact of life, both in Latin America and in the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Put me down for “mindless political speculation by someone who couldn’t think of anything else to write about” for 50$, guys…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. al-Ameda says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Frankly, I don´t think that people likes political dynasties. Even if they are a fact of life, both in Latin America and in the US.

    I think it depends on which political dynasty, don’t you?
    Kennedy? Bush? Rockefeller? Clinton?
    People vote for the one(s) that they like.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. C. Clavin says:

    Kind of in conflict with all the talk of the Obama’s moving to NYC after he is impeached for bringing a POW home.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  9. CarriesGunz says:

    Personally, I will trade Boxer and Feinstein for Michelle Obama and maybe throw in a congresscritter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Gromitt Gunn says:

    It may be mindless speculation, but I would willingly vote Michelle Obama into an elected position before I would begrudgingly vote in Hillary Clinton.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  11. Andre Kenji says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I think it depends on which political dynasty, don’t you?

    No. I think that political dynasties have advantages of their own, like name recognition and political infrastructure, not that people like it just because they are dynasties.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Truth be told, based on what I know now I would vote for her in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, the truth be told, part of the reason for that is because I know her family means too much to her to do it. She is a woman well grounded in reality with well placed priorities.

    If there were more like her, DC might well be empty. Sorry to say, that will never happen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. bill says:

    She’s totally qualified to be a senator from NY. Then she can be president, gag.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  14. An Interested Party says:

    She’s totally qualified to be a senator from NY. Then she can be president, gag.

    You poor poor thing…go ahead and say it…”Madame President”…I suspect you will be doing more than simply gagging when the time comes in a few years…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Kylopod says:

    @Andre Kenji: I agree. Other things being equal, a candidate related to a popular president has an advantage over a candidate related to an unpopular one. But being related to any president, popular or unpopular, has inherent advantages.

    (By “related,” I’m referring to known relations, which may have as much to do with one’s name as anything else. FDR was only distantly related to Teddy, but he did definitely capitalize on his last name to advance his career. And yes, spouse-hood does count in this calculus.)

    Because of this, I disagree with those who say Jeb Bush’s putative candidacy is hampered by his last name. It’s true that he’d be better off if his brother’s presidency weren’t commonly remembered as such a disaster. But if his name were Jeb Smith, he’d automatically be on a much lower rung–until he could find a way to distinguish himself.

    You can see this from the very fact of George W.’s rise. To get the nomination in 2000, he first had to convince conservatives he was a hardline supply-sider unlike his dad. But if his name had been George W. Smith, nobody would have had any reason to promote him in the first place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0