FLOTUS Leads the Olympic Charge

Chicago pins its hopes on Michelle Obama's personal connections

By Nia-Malika Henderson
|  Friday, Oct 2, 2009  |  Updated 12:45 AM CDT
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Michelle Obama: First Lady in Action

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Michelle Obama goes for the gold in Copenhagen.

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For all the attention that President Barack Obama is getting for his quick stopover in Copenhagen to press Chicago’s case for the Olympics, it’s First Lady Michelle Obama who is leading the charge.

Since arriving on Wednesday, the first lady has been making the personal push for Chicago, spending hours in a waterfront Marriott hotel room with as many of the 106 International Olympics Committee members as she can see, shaking hands and touting her girlhood home.

Chicago is clearly hoping that Michelle Obama can help the city’s bid with these personal connections. Just as she wowed London school girls with her humble roots and her story of regular-girl-turned-first lady , she’ll look to do the same in her individual pitches to IOC members and her presentation Friday morning.

The mix of down home charm and accessibility worked for Obama on the campaign trail, earning her the nickname, “the closer”—Barack Obama draw tens of thousands to rallies, but his wife could seal the deal, helping undecided voters make up their minds. The president will be on the ground for just three hours, but his wife has been on the ground for two days.

“We were teasing her this morning and we said “Well, it’s time for the closer to come out again,” senior aide Valerie Jarrett said in Copenhagen.

The White House is mum on the private sessions and on her presentation Friday morning, but Jarrett said that there won’t be a dry eye in the house after Chicago makes its case.

Also there on Chicago’s behalf — Oprah Winfrey, whom Michelle Obama calls her “chit-chat buddy,” along with Olympics great Nadia Comaneci and NBA all-star David Robinson. On Thursday morning, Michelle Obama met with IOC president Jacque Rogge.

And just what has she been saying?

In remarks Wednesday at the Mayor Richard Daley’s reception and in comments on Monday, Obama gave a sense of her campaign style approach, likening it to the Iowa caucuses.

“From what I’ve been told, from people who participated…these last days are really important. It’s like these people have been poring over these bids for years. So what’s one more conversation going to mean?” she said on Monday. “But we’ve learned in the campaign process that people are making up their minds until the very end, and that one conversation or one example or illustration that connects could make a difference.”

Obama has so far talked about watching the games as a young girl with her father, who was disabled.

“I think about what it would have meant for him to see someone in his shoes competing—because my father was watching, he couldn’t engage, he watched,” Obama said. “I am proud of the fact that the Paralympics piece is going to be so significant.”

The city that wins the Olympic games also hosts the Paralympics, a competition for people with disabilities. The Paralympics aspect of Chicago’s plan is said to be one of strongest components of their $3.3 billion bid.

Michelle Obama sees the Olympics as part of her broader portfolio as first lady.

“All I have are my stories, my experiences as a Chicagoan, as an American, as someone who believes deeply that health and fitness have got to play a greater role in the lives of our kids and our communities, and as someone who believes that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be the best way to bring that message home,” she said.

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