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First lady to hit the campaign trail in California, elsewhere

First Lady Michelle Obama will make her first foray into the midterm election cycle in October when she begins a series of trips that will take her to six states and end with California campaign events for House Democrats, the Democratic National Committee and Sen. Barbara Boxer.

For now, the first lady’s schedule is primarily focused on fundraising, but her events are certain to draw significant public interest. With her popularity high — her ratings outpaced her husband’s by double digits earlier this summer — the White House clearly sees her as an effective voice for the president’s agenda. Yet sending her into fiercely contested races is a risky decision for the White House, one that illustrates the gravity with which both the administration and Democratic leaders are approaching the Nov. 2 election.

Administration officials suggested Tuesday that Obama’s message on the campaign trail would not be overtly partisan. Her role, they said, would be similar to that of 2008, when she sought to serve as an upbeat advocate for husband’s agenda rather than attacking Republicans. At a White House briefing Tuesday, press secretary Robert Gibbs said she would “make a forceful and positive case about what the administration has done.”

To that end, officials said Michelle Obama would focus on the administration’s efforts to expand the availability of loans for small businesses, make college more affordable, reform healthcare and boost support for military families.

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The series of midweek trips will begin in mid-October with a swing through Milwaukee and Chicago for separate fundraising events for Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) and Alexi Giannoulias, who is running for Senate in Illinois, as well as three House members. After trips to Denver and New York, the first lady’s Western swing begins the week of Oct. 25 in Washington state, where she will raise money for endangered Sen. Patty Murray, and ends with three days in California.

Boxer, who is tied in the polls with Republican rival Carly Fiorina, joined Michelle Obama for a June event at Camp Pendleton, where they visited with military families.

While a number of candidates nationwide are edging away from the president, there has been no such reluctance to appear with his wife, whose favorability rating stood at an enviable 66% in July. But her forays also complicate the desires of some Democratic figures to avoid nationalizing the election or making it a referendum on President Obama and his policies.

Boxer’s campaign embraced the visit. Campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski said Boxer’s team was “thrilled that in the closing days of the campaign, the first lady will be coming to California to campaign with us and urge Californians to go to the polls.”

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Fiorina’s campaign brushed aside the trip’s impact. “National Democrats are clearly so nervous about Californians’ distaste for Barbara Boxer and her nearly three-decade political career of supporting job-killing policies and failing the people of California that they are forced to send in reinforcements to try and salvage the only job Boxer cares about — her own,” Fiorina spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.

maeve.reston@latimes.com

Peter Nicholas of the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.


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