Hil­lary Clin­ton’s se­cret weapon

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - >> Steve and Cokie Roberts Cokie and Steve Roberts Colum­nists Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­cokie@gmail.com.

Adam is a young AfricanAmer­i­can man of our ac­quain­tance who strongly sup­ports Hil­lary Clin­ton, but he ad­mits that his friends and con­tem­po­raries are far less en­thu­si­as­tic. A “big, big prob­lem for HRC,” he says, “is the ly­ing. Ev­ery­one re­al­izes that she has a habit of bend­ing the truth.”

So can any­body get through to youth­ful black vot­ers? Yes, he an­swers quickly. One per­son. Michelle Obama. Un­like her hus­band, Adam ex­plains, Michelle has not been scarred by eight years of un­re­lent­ing po­lit­i­cal war­fare, and she seems to have “lit­tle in­ter­est in par­ti­san skir­mishes, grid­lock and empty prom­ises.”

Young blacks par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ate a line Michelle de­liv­ered at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion: “I wake up ev­ery morn­ing in a house that was built by slaves.” As Adam puts it, the first lady has “shown young vot­ers of color that she’s not here to play pre­tend or mince words. She’s the real deal, and can say some of the hon­est, un­com­fort­able things the pres­i­dent can­not.”

Adam pin­points one of Clin­ton’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal prob­lems. As a re­cent head­line in The New York Times re­ported: “Young Blacks Voice Skep­ti­cism on Hil­lary Clin­ton, Wor­ry­ing Democrats.”

The Times quoted a sur­vey con­ducted by Cor­nell Belcher, a Demo­cratic poll­ster who spe­cial­izes in the African-Amer­i­can vote. Seven out of 10 young blacks backed Clin­ton, a sig­nif­i­cant drop-off from four years ago, when Obama at­tracted more than 9 out of 10.

“There’s no Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity with­out th­ese vot­ers,” said Belcher. “The dan­ger is that if you don’t get those vot­ers out, you’ve got the 2004 John Kerry elec­torate again.”

Few of th­ese young blacks will vote for Trump; the real threat to the Democrats comes if they stay home, or pick a third op­tion. The Times re­port cap­tured their sense of re­sent­ment against both ma­jor can­di­dates -- and the whole sys­tem.

“What am I sup­posed to do if I don’t like him and I don’t trust her?” said one mil­len­nial woman from Ohio, a key state where Trump holds a small lead in most polls. “Choose be­tween be­ing stabbed and be­ing shot? No way!”

Michelle’s as­sign­ment is to con­vince young vot­ers, es­pe­cially blacks, that their choice does mat­ter. That there is a real dif­fer­ence be­tween the can­di­dates. That staying home or back­ing a third-party can­di­date is a vote for Trump.

She starts from a po­si­tion of cred­i­bil­ity. In the lat­est Gallup Poll, Michelle’s fa­vor­able rat­ing was 64 per­cent; Hil­lary av­er­ages only about 43 per­cent.

More im­por­tantly, af­ter eight years liv­ing in the White House, she is a real ex­pert on the pres­i­dency. But she doesn’t carry the bag­gage of dis­ap­point­ment and de­feat that al­most al­ways at­taches to a two-term pres­i­dent.

“Michelle Obama is the one per­son that Trump can’t seem to bring him­self to attack,” writes Ben Mathis-Lil­ley in Slate.

Michelle has al­ready made three for­ays for the Clin­ton cam­paign to swing states -- Vir­ginia, Penn­syl­va­nia and North Carolina -- mainly to col­lege cam­puses. And she of­ten gets a “rock star” re­cep­tion, re­ports the Washington Post, a phrase sel­dom used about the ac­tual can­di­date.

At George Ma­son Univer­sity in sub­ur­ban Washington, she in­voked her ex­pe­ri­ence. “Here’s what I’ve learned about the job,” she told the stu­dents. “First and fore­most, this job is hard. This is the high­est stakes, most 24/7 job you could pos­si­bly imag­ine.”

So get off your duff, Michelle’s say­ing. To bor­row a phrase she used to pro­mote ex­er­cise dur­ing her hus­band’s first term, “Let’s move.”

The first lady has an­other tar­get as well: moms like her­self. A Fox News poll last month found that 2 out of 3 women have a fa­vor­able view of Hil­lary. In a TV ad pro­mot­ing Clin­ton, Michelle uses the words “kids” and “chil­dren” a half-dozen times in 30 sec­onds.

“Hil­lary will be a pres­i­dent our kids can look up to,” says Michelle, look­ing straight into the cam­era. “A pres­i­dent who be­lieves in our kids and will fight for them ev­ery day.”

One sur­ro­gate can­not de­cide an elec­tion. But in a close con­test, Michelle Obama could be Hil­lary Clin­ton’s se­cret weapon.

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