Lisa Burns, associate professor of media studies and public relations in the School of Communications, is available to comment. The author of “First Ladies and the Fourth Estate,” Burns has written extensively about first ladies.
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Burns says, “The Obama campaign seeks to cash in on the first lady’s popularity, hoping that undecided voters might be swayed by the character testimonial Mrs. Obama is sure to provide.
“There is a great deal of media interest in the role the first lady is playing in her husband’s campaign. I recently did an interview with a reporter from Terra.com, a leading Brazilian news website. The article, ‘With Hugs, Michelle Obama Wants to Win Over Undecided Voters,’ talks about Mrs. Obama’s approachability and how her everywoman appeal helps her to connect with voters. I also spoke with a reporter from The Hill, a D.C.-based publication, whose story looks at Mrs, Obama’s new focus in the 2012 campaign. In both articles, I discuss the challenges facing the first lady, particularly in tonight’s DNC speech. Unlike Ann Romney, whose role was to introduce Americans to her husband Mitt’s softer side, Mrs. Obama faces a more daunting task–restoring voters’ faith in her husband.
“The first lady finds herself in a situation much like the one facing Laura Bush in 2004. And I expect her to take a page from Mrs. Bush’s handbook, whose example Mrs. Obama has closely followed as first lady. Mrs. Bush was extremely popular, even though her husband’s poll numbers had slipped. When she addressed the GOP convention, Mrs. Bush talked about her husband’s accomplishments, but she admitted that there was more work to be done. She told Americans that they could count on her husband, especially in a crisis. Mrs. Obama needs to deliver a very similar message. She has to remind voters of her husband’s achievements, pointing out the progress he has made while also noting that the job is not done. And, most importantly, she needs to convince voters to believe in her husband and give him the chance to finish what he has started.
“Like Mrs. Romney, Mrs. Obama also needs to help her husband connect with voters, particularly women, who feel he has lost touch with the average American family. She probably will talk about her own family and how her husband worries about the type of future his daughters will inherit.
“The news media often refer to the candidates’ wives as their campaigns’ ‘secret weapons.’ But there is nothing secret about the prominent role both Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Romney are playing in this year’s presidential election.”
To reach Burns, please call John Morgan, associate vice president for public relations, at 203-206-4449.