First lady brings high ratings to last minute campaign

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WASHINGTON (AP) – First Lady Michelle Obama is still highly popular with American voters and is taking those approval ratings onto the campaign trail, stumping for Democrats in critical Nov. 2 congressional elections, balloting that may cost the party its majority in the House of Representatives.

Mrs. Obama’s approval rating puts her more than 20 points beyond that of her husband, President Barack Obama, who is struggling to ignite Democratic enthusiasm — a key to stemming a Republican landslide. Voters are in a nasty mood, and polling shows they are turning toward Republicans and their ultraconservative tea party allies who are promising to shrink government and lower taxes.

The first lady argued Wednesday in appearance for Sen. Russ Feingold that her husband needed the help of public servants like the liberal Wisconsin senator as the administration battles to right the U.S. economy. Obama’s approval ratings, which have slid to the low 40s, are at their lowest level since he took office two years ago because the economic recovery has nearly stalled while unemployment remains at nearly 10 percent half way through his four year term.

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The first lady cited what she considers her husband’s successes in office — overhauling the country’s health care and financial regulatory systems and massive stimulus spending to stem a pending economic catastrophe — and she urged voters not to give up.

“This election isn’t just about all that we’ve accomplished these past couple of years,” she said. “This election, Wisconsin, is about all we have left to do in the months and years ahead.”

Feingold is facing an unexpected battle as he seeks a fourth term in the Senate. Recent polls show his Republican challenger, Ron Johnson, with a slight lead. While Democrats are widely expected to lose seats in the Senate — 37 of 100 are on the ballot this year — a Republican takeover of the upper chamber is seen as a long shot. All 435 House seats are in play. Thirty-seven state governorships also are at stake, and Republicans are expected to win many of those politically important races.

Should the Republicans gain ascendancy in either chamber of Congress, Obama’s agenda for the final two years of his term likely will be crushed by opposition no votes, likely fueling even further one of the nastiest partisan political climates in recent American history.

Mrs. Obama’s appearance on the campaign trail this week is her first since 2008. She also plans campaign stops in Illinois, Colorado, Washington, California and Connecticut. She and the president will be appearing together in a campaign swing on Sunday to back state Treasurer Alexia Giannoulias who is in a tight race to take Obama’s former Senate seat. A loss in the president’s adopted home state would be a deep embarrassment. She made an appearance later Wednesday for Giannoulias.

A new Associated Press-mtvU poll, meanwhile, shows that college students, who were a key to Obama’s 2008 sweep into the White House, have cooled in their support as they confront a miserable job market and anemic economic recovery.

Forty-four percent of students approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 27 percent are unhappy with his stewardship, according to the survey conducted late last month. That’s a significant drop from the 60 percent who gave the president high marks in a May 2009 poll. Only 15 percent had a negative opinion back then.

In an effort to revitalize that voting bloc, Obama plans to appear Thursday at a youth town hall being broadcast live on MTV (which focuses on the popular music scene), BET (a network that caters to African Americans) and other networks. He also is to lead a rally Sunday at Ohio State University, and in recent days he headlined gatherings at two other universities.

There were 15 million first-time voters in 2008 — nearly one in eight of that year’s total, but Obama’s loss of support among that group suggest the newly engaged have not become assured backers.

Political scientists, campaign workers, students and others say many students are unhappy with Obama’s handling of the economy, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and failures to end the ban against gays serving openly in the military or to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. There’s also frustration with the messy political process and his inability to deliver on his campaign promise to change Washington.



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Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.