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.