What’s Next for Michelle Obama?

The sky may be the limit for the popular first lady after she leaves the White House.

AP Photo/Jim Cole
Oct. 17, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

Michelle Obama has demon­strated she can pack a power­ful punch on the cam­paign trail, de­liv­er­ing two of the year’s most mem­or­able speeches and fram­ing the stakes of the elec­tion in ways Hil­lary Clin­ton her­self has been un­able to do.

The first lady’s speech de­noun­cing Don­ald Trump last week and her per­form­ance at the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion earli­er this year only served to re­mind Demo­crats in Wash­ing­ton and back home in Illinois of her abil­ity to com­mu­nic­ate and in­spire voters—which makes her still un­known plans after leav­ing the White House all the more tan­tal­iz­ing.

Obama has yet to drop any hints about her post-White House as­pir­a­tions, but she has re­peatedly said she isn’t in­ter­ested in run­ning for of­fice. She doesn’t seem to share the same ap­pet­ite for polit­ics as Pres­id­ent Obama, nor the polit­ic­al am­bi­tions of Hil­lary Clin­ton, who in 2000 be­came the first former first lady to run for of­fice, win­ning a Sen­ate seat in New York.

Still, the idea of a fu­ture FLO­TUS cam­paign is par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing to those in her home state of Illinois, no mat­ter how un­real­ist­ic a pro­pos­i­tion that is right now.

“There is no per­son in polit­ics that I think Demo­crats, in­de­pend­ents, and Re­pub­lic­ans would love to see take on pub­lic ser­vice more than the first lady. So the an­swer is yes. We would en­cour­age her and put pres­sure on her,” said Thomas Bowen, a former top polit­ic­al aide to Chica­go May­or Rahm Emanuel. “But we are also kind of real­ist­ic in our ex­pect­a­tions and take her at her word that it’s not something she wants to do right now. That doesn’t mean it won’t ever be an op­tion in the fu­ture, and we will wait faith­fully for her.”

This year, both Oba­mas have played a sig­ni­fic­ant role for Clin­ton and will con­tin­ue to hit the trail for the pres­id­ent’s former sec­ret­ary of State. On Thursday, Pres­id­ent Obama will be in Miami help­ing Clin­ton try to lock down Flor­ida, while Michelle Obama will be in Phoenix as the Clin­ton cam­paign looks to ex­pand on Obama’s 2012 map.

In a com­pel­ling and emo­tion­al speech in New Hamp­shire last week, the first lady is­sued a call to arms for wo­men to line up against the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee on mor­al grounds. Obama de­scribed how the 2005 au­dio of Don­ald Trump from Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood, in which he de­lighted at his abil­ity to grope and touch wo­men without con­sequence, “has shaken me to my core.” The well-re­ceived ad­dress was clipped and turned in­to a cam­paign video.

“Her im­pact on the race is pretty sig­ni­fic­ant and likely to be en­dur­ing for the next sev­er­al weeks,” said Bill Bur­ton, a former White House deputy press sec­ret­ary for Pres­id­ent Obama. “She’s really tal­en­ted. And it’s great that we have her in this mo­ment be­cause it’s a scary one for a lot of people. It’s nice to have a mom-in-chief who can help us meta­bol­ize the in­form­a­tion.”

Illinois Demo­crats would love to see Michelle Obama make a run for something in her home state, no mat­ter what it is. Giv­en her na­tion­al and even in­ter­na­tion­al ap­peal, seek­ing a role in Con­gress or in state or city polit­ics is un­likely. But there are oth­er op­tions com­ing down the pipeline.

Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Bruce Rau­ner is up for reelec­tion in 2018 and Demo­crat­ic Sen. Dick Durbin, who is 71 years old, is up for reelec­tion in 2020, though Durbin is viewed as a top po­ten­tial re­cruit to chal­lenge Rau­ner in two years, which could res­ult in an open Sen­ate seat. Emanuel’s second term will be up in 2019, and former Demo­crat­ic Gov. Pat Quinn is cur­rently push­ing for a ref­er­en­dum that would lim­it Chica­go may­ors to two terms.

Still, party of­fi­cials in Illinois said re­cruit­ing Obama to run for something someday isn’t on their minds at the mo­ment.

“It’s a busy time. There’s an elec­tion that’s go­ing on,” said Steve Brown, a spokes­man for the Illinois Demo­crat­ic Party. “Ob­vi­ously she’d be qual­i­fied to run for just about any of­fice up and down the tick­et, but I think she has con­sist­ently talked about not hav­ing any in­terest in polit­ic­al of­fice.”

An­oth­er pos­sib­il­ity is a re­turn to a role in aca­demia or in some ex­ec­ut­ive ca­pa­city. Like her hus­band, Obama is a Har­vard Law School gradu­ate. Be­fore she be­came first lady, she was an as­sist­ant dean of stu­dents at the Uni­versity of Chica­go and a vice pres­id­ent of the uni­versity’s hos­pit­al sys­tem. Pub­lic health, nu­tri­tion, and child­hood obesity have been a sig­ni­fic­ant fo­cus for her in the White House.

The Oba­mas have already said they plan to stay in Wash­ing­ton D.C. un­til their young­er daugh­ter, Sasha, fin­ishes high school, and plan to live in the Kal­orama neigh­bor­hood in a home owned by long­time Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant Joe Lock­hart. The Oba­mas still own a home in Chica­go’s Hyde Park neigh­bor­hood, and there are plans for Pres­id­ent Obama’s pres­id­en­tial lib­rary to be built in the city’s South Side. Politico re­por­ted this week that one of his post-pres­id­ency fo­cuses will be aid­ing a newly formed or­gan­iz­a­tion called the Na­tion­al Demo­crat­ic Re­dis­trict­ing Com­mit­tee, which will look to re­form the re­dis­trict­ing pro­cesses in states ahead of 2022.

But earli­er this year, the pres­id­ent said he wasn’t sure where his fam­ily would end up, bey­ond spend­ing the next few years in D.C.

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