WASHINGTON -- Michelle Obama, an extraordinary stump speaker and potentially one of Sen. Barack Obama's most effective surrogates, is poised to step up her role in her husband's presidential campaign.
"I hate following my wife," Obama joked, speaking at a New York fund-raiser Friday night after being introduced by Michelle. When someone in the crowd yelled that Michelle should run, Obama said, "Yeah, she's too smart to run. It is true my wife is smarter, better looking. She's a little meaner than I am."
Hardly that. She is, according to spokesman Bill Burton, the "most important adviser" to the Illinois Democrat.
But with the demands of the campaign growing, Barack Obama simply can't be everywhere. John Edwards -- who hits Chicago this week for a fund-raiser -- has wife Elizabeth circulating on his behalf, and everyone knows that Hillary Rodham Clinton has a powerful helper in former President Bill Clinton.
Michelle Obama switched her University of Chicago job to part time, and the Obama campaign has tapped Melissa Winter, a veteran of two presidential campaigns, to serve as her chief of staff in the campaign's Chicago headquarters.
In the month-old campaign, so far, Michelle Obama has traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire, Los Angeles and New York. She will "continue to join the senator from time to time," Burton said.
Michelle Obama, an attorney, is a vice president for community and external relations at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She changed her status from full time to part time Feb. 5, just before Obama's Feb. 10 kickoff rally in Springfield.
U. of C. hospital spokesman John Easton told me the amount of time she will be on the job is not firmed up yet -- but her pay is being reduced in proportion to her work.
Even with her decreased hours, she will remain involved in the community and government affairs committee of the medical center board and will continue her work dealing with community outreach, volunteers and in the National Institute of Health-funded South Side Health Collaborative.
Winter just moved to Chicago from Washington, where for the last 10 years she has worked for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), serving as his scheduler and executive assistant.
During the 2000 Gore/ Lieberman campaign, Winter staffed Lieberman as he traveled; she also was part of Lieberman's 2004 Democratic primary bid.
Michelle Obama voiced concern about her husband's safety as the couple were weighing the pros and cons of a run late last year. She told the crowd at the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York, "I want to assure everyone who's really deeply worried about us -- you know they worry about our safety and how we're going to hold it together as a family ... because politics is a rough and tumble sport.... We're ready for this because we really don't have any other choice."
Rudy in Chicago
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the GOP White House front-runner, makes his first visit to Chicago as a presidential candidate. He headlines a $1,000-a-person fund-raiser this evening at the Palmer House Hilton.
Giuliani's Illinois backers include state GOP powerhouses Ron Gidwitz and Pat Ryan.