The GOP takes aim at Michelle Obama
June 11 2008
Picking on potential first ladies is nothing new.
In the primary campaign, Judith Giuliani, the third wife of former Republican presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani, was the subject of merciless profiles that depicted her as a husband-stealing social climber.
Hillary Clinton was derided in 1992 after saying, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life."
In 2004, Heinz Kerry was a target. Sometimes, the outspoken heiress brought it on herself, as when she told a reporter to "shove it" and said -- incorrectly -- that Laura Bush had never held a "real job."
John Kerry, who has campaigned with Michelle Obama, said the attacks could backfire. "She's a mother of two young daughters, and her self-made story is America's story," the Massachusetts senator said. "I think a lot of people will be repelled by the attacks on her, because it'll feel like an attack on their own family. Republicans smear her at their peril."
Some Republicans, notably Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, denounced the anti-Michelle Obama video, but Kerry predicted that future attacks would be made by groups unaffiliated with political parties. "They won't launch these vicious attacks through Sen. McCain," Kerry said. "They'll use proxies and surrogates."
Indeed, in a Washington studio, a conservative outfit called Citizens United is scrambling to finish a 90-minute anti-Obama documentary. According to the group's president, David Bossie, it will probably include the Michelle Obama "proud of my country" clip.
Bossie, a longtime Republican operative, bridled at the charge that singling her out is uncivil. "Nobody's picking on her; nobody's being unfair to her," he said. "She needs to be mindful that those types of statements will be used against her husband."
Recently, rumors about divisive comments allegedly made by Michelle Obama have swirled about the Web. Although unsubstantiated, they were appearing so often that a newspaper reporter asked her husband about them.
"There is dirt and lies that are circulated in e-mails, and they pump them out long enough until finally you, a mainstream reporter, asks me about it," Obama said. "That gives legs to the story. . . . Frankly, my hope is people don't play this game."
It's unclear, however, how much difference a spouse makes in a campaign.
Voters will say they discount the spouse, Mellman said. But "beneath the surface, it can help in forming an overall impression of a person," he said. "People assume if they don't like the spouse, they don't like the candidate."
In the current campaign, said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, Bill Clinton's heated remarks alienated many black voters. (The former president implied that Obama's win in South Carolina was unimportant since Jesse Jackson had also won the state in 1988, and accused the Obama campaign of "playing the race card" on him.)
"That's a really good example of a candidate paying the price for the things a spouse said and did," Walsh said.
She regards the Tennessee GOP video as a warning to the Obama campaign. "This is the kind of thing that's coming," she said, "so it's time to be careful."
Michelle Obama in the hot seat too - Los Angeles Times