First lady Jill Biden is traversing the country in the final weeks before the midterm elections, adding several stops to her already travel-heavy time in the White House and outstripping her recent predecessors in terms of campaign appearances and active fundraising.
Biden this week visited Tennessee, Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida. Her solo trips, while President Biden has been traveling out west this week, have been focused on top issues for her portfolio, including education, the military and COVID-19, but also include fundraising for Democrats.
The first lady on Wednesday told a group of donors at a private Democratic National Committee (DNC) fundraiser in Nashville’s Hillsboro-West End neighborhood that “we have to act now” ahead of November.
“Just imagine what he could do with a few more partners in Congress,” Biden said.
In 2018, former first lady Melania Trump was mostly out of sight on the campaign trail during the midterms. Even in the final days before the election, she opted to stay home while then-President Trump held campaign rallies across the country.
Former first lady Michelle Obama was known to have a distaste for campaigning — setting out in support of Democrats only in the last few days of the 2016 cycle, during her husband’s final months in office. During the 2014 midterms, some Democrats complained about her absence beyond things such as get-out-the-vote efforts.
“The first lady will be an active campaigner for Democrats this fall and will carry a message of optimism and hope, focusing on the accomplishments of her husband’s administration,” a senior adviser to Jill Biden told The Hill.
Biden will frequently spread the message that “Joe is delivering results,” and she plans to use her “personal experience and perspective as a woman who lived in the pre-Roe era,” to remind women what’s at stake in the election, the adviser said.
Biden in San Francisco last week shared a personal story about a friend who became pregnant as a teenager in the late 1960s, before Roe v. Wade, and had to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before she could get abortion. She then couldn’t return to her home after her procedure, so she recovered at the first lady’s family home.
“Secrecy. Shame. Silence. Danger. Even death. That’s what defined that time for so many women,” Biden said in her remarks.
She is set to join Florida Senate hopeful Rep. Val Demings (D) and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist (D) for events in the Sunshine State on Saturday and hold an event with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) for the Biden administration’s Cancer Moonshot initiative to mark National Mammography Day.
On Friday, she delivered remarks at a political event with Democratic Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams. Also in Georgia, the first lady visited with service members and military families at Lawson Army Airfield in Fort Benning as part of the White House’s Joining Forces initiative.
Georgia is also a top-watched Senate race this cycle, and Biden’s visit came as the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, has held a slight lead in polls amid allegations that GOP challenger Herschel Walker paid for an abortion he pressured an ex-girlfriend to get.
Michael LaRosa, former press secretary to the first lady, said that in her first 18 months in office, Biden has traveled to over 75 cities, 40 states and 10 countries. He also pointed out that she is meanwhile teaching a full course load.
“She has been raising money and working for hard Democratic candidates since the beginning of the year because she knows how high the stakes are in this midterm election,” said LaRosa, now a managing director at the Penta Group. “She’s really leaning in and trying to motivate voters to do the same because of how serious consequences are for sitting out this election.”
While other first ladies, with the exception of Trump, hit the midterm campaign trail close to Election Day, Biden has been on the road for months working on her own initiatives, such as supporting military families, as well as promoting Democrats.
Trump made headlines in 2018 for being a no show before the election, while her office pointed to her schedule as to why she wasn’t campaigning.
Obama, for the 2010 midterms, campaigned for Democrats running for Senate in Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado and other states, but by the 2014 midterms, she left Democrats wanting to see more from her.
Obama made visits to states including Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in the 2014 cycle, by which time her national profile had risen to the point that she was arguably the most popular person in the administration. Democrats knew the impact she could have and wanted her to be a top surrogate, while she made her dislike of fundraising known.
Katherine Sibley, director of American Studies Program at St. Joseph’s University, argued that first ladies are “often, more popular than their husbands [and] they are in high demand.”
“Today we are seeing Jill Biden too capitalizing on her greater popularity in comparison to her husband’s, but unlike some of her predecessors, she started this months ago, traveling for example to Arizona, Nevada, and Kentucky in March 2022 in a tour connected with the midterms, to fundraise and to promote some of the more bipartisan bills that have since passed, and highlighting her role as an educator,” Sibley said.
Other former first ladies, such as Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, did their part for the midterm elections while in the White House. After the Republican sweep in the 1994 midterms, Clinton put some blame on herself and told reporters she regretted that Democrats’ efforts on health care reform were used against them politically.
Biden’s visits to purple and red states this week are particularly notable, especially considering that Democrats have a chance of keeping their narrow control of the Senate, an unexpected result for the president’s party in a midterm.
When she went to Wisconsin on Wednesday and attended a Milwaukee Public Schools event, she met with Democrat Mandela Barnes, who is running to unseat GOP Sen. Ron Johnson. Earlier that day in Tennessee, she pleaded to the group at a DNC fundraiser to “keep volunteering and keep giving money.”
“I know you’ve donated but, if you could, help with just a little bit more. Because politics isn’t a game. … Together, we will win this November,” she said.
Katherine Jellison, a professor of U.S. women’s and gender history at Ohio University, said Biden’s fundraising is part of an all-out effort from Democrats ahead of November.
“With Democrats hoping to hold on to both houses of Congress, and their majority margins being razor thin, perhaps the strategy is to pull out all the stops,” Jellison said.
She added that “placing the first lady in front of an audience of people already inclined to donate to her husband’s party and its candidates has been a proven strategy for attracting additional donations in larger amounts.”