WASHINGTON — It’s no coincidence that Michelle Obama and Ann Romney are showing up a lot more as the tight presidential race barrels into the final few months.
The rival campaigns are rolling out their top assets in a big way. The first lady is the public face of a new grass-roots mobilizing effort for Team Obama. And Mrs. Romney’s recent interviews have put her on display cutting through the campaign din — including her blunt statement Thursday that her husband has provided everything that "people need to know" and won’t be releasing more tax returns.
Although Mrs. Romney is still largely unknown to a large swath of the public, both women are well regarded by voters in their own parties, and the campaigns are going all-out to use their appeal in ways that go well beyond the traditional presidential cookie bakeoff.
"They really do appear to be in it to win it, both of them, and sincerely in it to win it," says Anita McBride, who served as Laura Bush’s chief of staff in the White House.
Mrs. Obama on Thursday made her debut as the leader the Obama campaign’s new "It Takes One" program, which asks supporters to do one thing to promote the campaign — and to engage someone else to do likewise.
"That one conversation you have, that one new volunteer you recruit, that could be the difference between waking up on Nov. 7 and feeling the promise of four more years or asking yourself, ‘Could I have done more?’" Mrs. Obama says in a three-minute video to supporters that is filled with urgency.
Campaign officials said Mrs. Obama will participate in many "It Takes One" events as she travels the country, recruiting neighborhood team leaders, stopping by voter registration events and speaking to groups of women. She had planned to launch the program with appearances Friday in Virginia, but canceled those events in light of the mass shooting in Colorado.
McBride called it "a pretty innovative tactic" for a first lady to have her own branded political initiative, but she said it fits with Mrs. Obama’s expansive role in fundraising and political engagement.
Mrs. Romney, for her part, has increasingly been out front, fielding questions on issues at the core of her husband’s campaign — his choice for vice president, his refusal to release more tax returns, and more. She’s also a potent fundraiser for Team Romney.
In an interview that aired Thursday on ABC’s "Good Morning America," Mrs. Romney summed up her expectations for President Barack Obama’s future with a curt sports analogy: "At the end of the day, they’re going to fire the coach because things are not going well," she said.
Asked about the mounting pressure on her husband to release more of his past tax returns, she dismissed that as an effort to get "more material for more attack."
She said the campaign has given everything "people need to know and understand about our financial situation and how we live our life."
It was Ann Romney who put out word that the campaign was considering women for vice president, Ann Romney who let it be known that a veep decision hadn’t been made yet when speculation started spiraling.
As a former first lady of Massachusetts, Mrs. Romney understands campaigns, but she wasn’t much of a presence in her husband’s gubernatorial politicking. She had a hard time with the rough-and-tumble of his first presidential run in 2008, saying she took all the attacks personally and swore never to go through it again.
This time, she told ABC, "I just made a decision. I’m going to enjoy it." She dismissed as laughable a Democratic National Committee web ad that mockingly used footage of one of the show horses she rides as part of her therapy for multiple sclerosis.
The DNC on Wednesday withdrew that ad and said it did not mean to offend Mrs. Romney.
Like virtually all male politicians’ wives, the two spouses do showcase their softer sides, frequently talking about their children and going all-out to humanize their husbands.
Yes, both submitted recipes for Family Circle’s cookie bakeoff this year. And both have gotten zinged for pricey fashion choices at times.
But McBride said there is an evolving expectation that first ladies should be more engaged in "advocating and standing for something."
That has the potential to open them up to more controversy. But both head into the fall well-positioned.
Mrs. Obama was viewed favorably by 70 percent of adults in a May AP-GfK poll, compared with 58 percent for the president. She was viewed unfavorably by 20 percent, her husband by 38 percent.
Mrs. Romney, less well-known, was viewed favorably by 39 percent and unfavorably by 23 percent, while 38 percent did not know how they felt about her. Mitt Romney, better known, had higher unfavorable ratings than his wife. He was favorably viewed by 43 percent, unfavorably by about the same share of voters, with 13 percent unsure about him.