In August, for the first time in four months, President Barack Obama outraised Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Obama’s secret weapon? The first lady.
Obama’s campaign and joint fundraising efforts raised $114 million last month, beating the $111.6 million haul by Romney and his allies. Michelle Obama brought in at least $5.1 million at 12 fundraisers in August, where ticket prices typically were lower than for her husband’s money-gathering events, according to information from the Obama campaign.
“Saying, ‘I want to be in a room with Michelle Obama for $100’ is not a big investment of money. And that might bring in money you wouldn’t ordinarily get,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication in Philadelphia.
The same is true for Ann Romney, who has proved an active and potent fundraiser for her husband’s White House bid.
At their party’s respective national conventions, Michelle Obama, 48, and Ann Romney, 63, won rave reviews for speeches that sought to humanize their husbands. Behind closed doors, they make the case for their spouses to donors.
Since Jan. 1, the first lady has participated in 56 fundraisers -- 54 for her husband’s re-election campaign and two for the Democratic National Committee’s host group in Charlotte, North Carolina -- that raised at least $17.5 million.
Calculations are based on the approximate number of attendees and the minimum ticket price at each event, as provided by the Obama campaign. The amount Michelle Obama has taken in probably is much higher because tickets can cost $20,000 or more per person.
Ann Romney has headlined 37 fundraisers this year, according to the Romney campaign, including one at former President George W. Bush’s Dallas house yesterday. She also was the draw at a Sept. 6 gathering at Oscar-winner Robert Duvall’s home in Middleburg, Virginia, for which tickets ranged from $2,500 to $25,000, according to an invitation obtained by the National Journal.
The Romney campaign wouldn’t provide minimum ticket prices or the approximate number of people attending Ann Romney’s fundraisers. The amount she has generated for the effort runs in the millions, according to a campaign official who wasn’t authorized to provide detailed information.
Michelle Obama has joked that she sometimes forgets what day of the week it is because she travels so much.
Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina called the first lady a “tremendous asset to the campaign.” She has “been a successful and dedicated fundraiser, which has been crucial for helping us compete,” he said in a statement.
Michelle Obama sparked criticism during her husband’s 2008 run for saying, as her husband surged ahead in the Democratic primary race, that for the first time in her adult life she was “really proud of my country.” In that year’s campaign, her approval ratings never exceeded 54 percent, according to Gallup.
Now she consistently gets higher approval ratings than her husband. In an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted Aug. 16-20, she was viewed favorably by 64 percent of adults, compared with 53 percent for her husband. The poll of 1,006 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
Matt Rhoades, Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, called Ann Romney a “tremendous asset,” echoing the term Messina used for Michelle Obama.
Rhoades added in a statement: “Mrs. Romney is an extension of who Mitt Romney is -- a man you can trust in the Oval Office to handle the tough decisions.”
Ann Romney’s health -- she suffers from multiple sclerosis -- complicates her efforts. She has said publicly that she has to be careful about “over-fatiguing” herself.
Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chairman of Stonyfield Farm Inc. who held an Aug. 2 fundraiser at his lakeside New Hampshire home featuring Michelle Obama, said she “does a job” that the president can’t.
“She can be emotive in a way that the president, though we’ve seen him emote, that’s not what the commander in chief does,” he said.
He said the first lady’s message “was this combination of authenticity, a real person speaking on a very person-to-person level, not ‘I’m Michelle up here.’”
Some of her fundraisers are no less star-studded than those for her husband. She headlined an Aug. 12 family-themed event at pop star Gwen Stefani’s Beverly Hills mansion that brought in at least $250,000, with guests including Nicole Richie.
At a June 14 fundraiser at Sarah Jessica Parker’s New York townhouse that brought in about $2 million and that the president attended, the actress was especially enthused about sitting next to the first lady at dinner, calling her “radiant and extraordinary.”
Along with the event hosted by Duvall, Ann Romney’s high-profile appearances include a Sept. 10 fundraiser where she was joined by former first lady Laura Bush in Oklahoma City, attended by about 350 people. On May 30 she attended a “ladies luncheon” at the Palo Alto, California, home of Cisco Systems Chief Executive Officer John Chambers and his wife, Elaine, that was co-hosted by Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Meg Whitman.