Dr. Jill Biden had a feeling the final two weeks before midterm elections would be intense.
But rather than balk at the multitasking often asked of a first lady – spouse, hostess, adviser, parent, party planner, initiative-builder, messenger, surrogate – she has leaned into it, and is now using her packed schedule to deliver an “I see you” to female voters.
With the exception of teaching her two classes per week at Northern Virginia Community College, the first lady’s staff had long ago cleared much of her schedule for the latter part of October and the first week of November, knowing, as one senior Biden adviser told CNN, Biden would need to be “nimble” in order to participate in the sort of effective deployment required as polls tighten in key races around the country.
As first lady, not only is it easier logistically for Jill Biden to zip in and out of states – while substantial, her security footprint and requirements are less in terms of size than those of President Joe Biden – first ladies are a more palatable administration presence for undecided and independent voters. They historically represent a more approachable surrogate than the candidate himself – Jill Biden at fundraisers likes to step out from behind the podium, taking a handheld microphone with her, and encourage audiences to get closer.
“One might even argue that she is more relatable than Mrs. Bush or Mrs. Obama to women voters who are juggling identities as wives and mothers with their workplace role,” said Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University who has extensively studied first ladies, pointing to the midterm campaign popularity of Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.
Jill Biden has been to several swing states in the last month that her husband has not, including Wisconsin, Georgia, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Arizona, where the first lady will spend her Saturday stumping for Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. It is at these stops and events – sometimes up to three in one day – that the first lady uses her “Jill from Philly” persona to connect with voters.
“Like a lot of educators to stay organized, I use to-do lists,” said Biden at a political event this week in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “So, this election is going to be won or lost by where voting falls on your to-do list.”
Biden was speaking to a group of mostly teachers, but she could have also been speaking to busy moms or dads, for whom having more than one important task per day on which to focus is a daily reality.
“Put voting at the top of your to-do list,” she said. “We all have that teacher voice. That makes people stop what they’re doing and pay attention. Well, now is the time to use it.”
A motivated first lady hits the trail
The “to-do list” theme is a newer addition to Biden’s campaign script; she used it at campaign events in New Hampshire and New York at the end of October, and again in Pennsylvania this week. Presumably it is in her arsenal for Saturday.
Biden has, as of Saturday, traveled to more than a dozen states in the last month, dropping in occasional events about her personal initiatives but largely talking up President Biden and Democratic accomplishments in areas where every vote Tuesday will count. Joe Biden has in the same period traveled to 10 states, though some more than once.
A DNC spokesperson told CNN, “She has done 11 fundraising events for the DNC. Events, emails, SMS, and direct mail signed by her have brought in millions of dollars for the DNC to support Democrats up and down the ticket. “
On Sunday, Jill Biden will be in Houston for an event with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, one of a handful of down-ballot appearances she has made. Monday will find Biden in Virginia with Democratic US Rep. Jennifer Wexton, before she joins President Biden in Maryland at a campaign event on Election Day Eve. On Tuesday, election day, Jill Biden will be teaching her regular class.
Among the repeated anecdotes for the first lady at fundraisers and appearances is the story of the friend she had when she was 17, who found herself pregnant and unable to legally get an abortion without a psychiatric evaluation for a diagnosis of being “mentally unfit.”
Biden says she asked her own mother if the girl could stay with them to convalesce after she got out of the hospital after the procedure, to which Biden’s mom said, “Yes.”
“My mother and I never spoke about it again,” she said to a group of donors last month at a Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee event held at the New York City home of Jonathan Soros. “Secrecy, shame, silence, danger. Even death. That’s what that time defined for so many women. So, I was shocked when the Dobbs decision came out. For me, I felt it was devastating. You know, how could we go back to those times?”
With abortion rights among the most important and top-of-mind issues for voters, it falls in large part to Biden to get to that degree of personal when she’s speaking on the campaign trail – and it is another reason she’s the Biden who is requested most for events.
“I think stories about ‘how things used to be’ regarding abortion are always more effective coming from a woman than a man. So, Jill would definitely be more effective than Joe,” said Jellison.
Jill Biden has another, perhaps more subliminal, task to achieve as campaign surrogate.
Joe Biden turns 80 less than two weeks after Election Day, and his agility and mental acuity are regularly criticized by Republicans, including former President Donald Trump. Biden’s former presidential rival frequently plays a video reel at his rallies of slip-ups to cast his successor as a gaffe-prone senior citizen.
Those critiques have led some to question whether he is too old to be commander in chief. But by touting Joe Biden’s accomplishments on behalf of the Democratic Party, Jill Biden, 71, paints a picture to voters of a person not hobbled by age, though he is the oldest president in the country’s history.
“Her focus has been on the Biden administration’s record of achievements, so in that way, it is a theme of competence and accomplishment,” said Jellison, “which I’m sure she and others hope will translate as positive indications of the president’s physical and mental health.”