Michelle Obama Focuses On Voter Participation In Return To Politics Her husband has now endorsed his former vice president, Joe Biden. But former first lady Michelle Obama is making a return to politics in 2020 on her own terms.

Michelle Obama May Stay 'Above The Fray' As She Returns To Political Life

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/836007000/838318130" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Former first lady Michelle Obama is stepping back into politics. She's promoting an effort to drive voter turnout. The big question is what role she'll play in the campaign between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Here's NPR's Juana Summers.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: On a recent Saturday night, tens of thousands of people joined a nine-hour virtual dance party on Instagram Live hosted by DJ D-Nice. Some familiar names have been dropping into Club Quarantine, like John Legend, Joe Biden and Mark Zuckerberg. But that was nothing compared to when Michelle Obama showed up.


DJ D-NICE: Oh, my gosh. Michelle Obama's in here. Michelle Obama's in here.

SUMMERS: It was a reminder of Obama's influence and popularity, something she's now putting behind the cause of increasing voter turnout. Last week, she announced her support for greater access to voting by mail, early in-person voting and online voter registration, calling these options critical steps for this moment. Susan Sher was the first lady's chief of staff at the beginning of the Obama administration.

SUSAN SHER: At this moment, she's going to focus on When We All Vote because, particularly in light of the COVID-19 virus, everyone saw those pictures of people in Wisconsin who were risking their own safety and health in order to vote. I think it's even more important, and she appreciates how important it is.

SUMMERS: Michelle Obama launched When We All Vote in 2018. The nonpartisan group is the most high-profile political effort she's made since her family left the White House. Christine Matthews is a Republican pollster. She says that Michelle Obama is particularly popular among African Americans and women.

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: Every first lady or former first lady has a partisan aspect to their popularity. But Michelle Obama is actually fairly popular among Republican women.

SUMMERS: Matthews says it helps that Obama's role has not been overly political. That's something that those who know her say isn't likely to change in 2020, even with former Vice President Joe Biden on the ballot. Stephanie Cutter is a Democratic strategist who advised Michelle Obama.

STEPHANIE CUTTER: The kind of surrogacy that Michelle Obama brings is unprecedented. People don't see her as a political figure. They see her as a beloved former first lady who they completely relate with.

SUMMERS: Former President Barack Obama endorsed Biden last week. While those close to her say that Michelle Obama, of course, supports Biden's campaign, she has yet to endorse, herself. Susan Sher.

SHER: Whatever she does, she will be above the fray. And that isn't to say that she isn't supporting Vice President Biden. She obviously is. But she will do it in a way that is positive.

SUMMERS: Aimee Allison is the founder of She the People, a group focused on mobilizing women of color.

AIMEE ALLISON: Michelle Obama's endorsement of Joe Biden isn't as critical as Michelle Obama's encouragement of high voter turnout. (Laughter) She's exactly positioned where she needs to be to actually win the White House.

SUMMERS: Michelle Obama's popularity, coupled with her digital footprint, makes her a desirable surrogate for a time when campaigning and advocacy work is all moving online. On Instagram alone, she has more than 37 million followers. Tina Tchen also served as Obama's chief of staff and is the president of Time's Up Now. She says Obama brings an authenticity to social media that motivates people.

TINA TCHEN: She has been a huge presence. And I laugh about that because I can remember being in the White House in an era where we weren't so sure Twitter was something the first lady of the United States ought to be on (laughter).

SUMMERS: After she dropped into Club Quarantine, DJ D-Nice hosted a couch party for Michelle Obama's voting group. When We All Vote says it reached more than 400,000 eligible voters.


D-NICE: Mrs. Obama is in here. We love you. We love you. We love you.

SUMMERS: And at the next couch party later tonight, the group says that Michelle Obama will kick things off herself.

Juana Summers, NPR News.


Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.