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May 30, 2017

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Is Michelle Obama Hillary's MVP?

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Hillary Clinton was always expected to get a late-campaign enthusiasm boost from the White House. The surprise is that it's not coming from the president.

On a star-studded team of campaign surrogates — including President Barack Obama — the most valuable player of 2016 is undoubtedly first lady Michelle Obama.

During a divisive political year, the hugely popular first lady has wowed voters with her powerful rhetoric. And she can be the emotional center to a campaign whose candidate is not known for projecting warmth.

Last week, in a searing indictment of Republican nominee Donald Trump that was broadcast live by cable news networks, Michelle Obama said his recorded boasts about making unwanted sexual advances toward women had "shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted."

One of the Most Memorable Lines

With that, the first lady spoke in terms that Hillary Clinton rarely does, given accusations against her own husband that he's long denied — but Trump has raised.

"If Hillary Clinton were out there making these same arguments, we know how Donald Trump would respond, by attacking former President Clinton and bringing up old stories from the 90s," said Democratic strategist Lis Smith.

Michelle Obama also had one of the most memorable lines of the Democratic National Convention, saying her family motto is: "When they go low, we go high."

Clinton has repeated that line in public several times since.

"Michelle Obama is seen as a truly authentic voice that whatever topic she speaks on, people feel that it's really coming from her bones," said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh.

To the Clinton campaign, Michelle Obama is a crucial asset who can connect with the Democratic base — particularly young people — but also reach independent and undecided voters. That was clear on Monday, when the campaign signaled a push into traditionally Republican Arizona by announcing that the first lady would host an early-vote rally in Phoenix on Thursday.

"There is no more powerful advocate for our campaign," said Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri. "Because the first lady isn't seen as a political figure, when she does speak out, it has a real impact."

Even among Clinton's so-called "uber-surrogates" — the president, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — Michelle Obama has stood out. Once a reluctant campaigner, she has grown more comfortable after more than eight years on the national stage, promoting her childhood obesity and education initiatives, hosting her own events and showing a playful side on talk shows and in interviews.

"Either she's Meryl Streep, or she's really genuine about this," said Robert Watson, an American studies professor at Lynn University. "In this year of plastic candidates, Michelle just seems the most genuine one out there."

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