Jan 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Jill Biden expands communications team ahead of midterms

First lady Jill Biden is seen visiting a vaccination clinic in Washington. D.C.
First lady Jill Biden visits a vaccination clinic in Washington in November. Photo: Rich Kessler/NBAE via Getty Images

Jill Biden is expanding her communications team in anticipation of increased demand for the first lady ahead of this fall's midterm elections, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: First ladies are often more popular than their husbands and become valuable surrogates during elections. Kelsey Donohue, who worked as an assistant press secretary for first lady Michelle Obama, will join the three-person communications team.

  • In lieu of pushing a single main cause, Jill Biden has pursued a wide-ranging portfolio that's kept her travel and event schedule busy and diverse.
  • She's traveled to 35 states, over 60 cities and three countries.
  • By contrast, Melania Trump didn't move to Washington until June 2017 as her son finished school in New York City, and Michelle Obama also had limited first-year travel for similar family reasons.

What they’re saying: “[First ladies] are hugely powerful because they really bridge that gap between the politician and the people, and make each person feel like they're talking to them,” said Kate Andersen Brower, author of "First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies.”

  • “Jill Biden, she's a very powerful weapon for the campaigns to use. Any House member would be lucky to have her.”

Driving the news: Donohue joins the East Wing staff from Snap Inc., after previously working at the Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics. She worked for Michelle Obama from 2015-17.

  • Donohue will lead the first lady’s digital media efforts and work to further amplify Jill Biden's issue portfolio and public-engagement communications.
  • While campaign activities must be distinct from official duties, there's often overlap with government work coinciding with travel to electoral battlegrounds.
  • "We are excited for Kelsey to join our small but nimble team!” said spokesperson Michael LaRosa.

Between the lines: Former first ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama both boasted favorability ratings hovering around 70% during the beginning of their husbands’ first terms.

  • Democrats deployed Michelle Obama in the 2010 midterms amid President Obama’s relatively low polling.
  • Barbara Bush was so well-liked by the public, she filed the papers for George H.W. Bush’s campaign in New Hampshire in 1992.
  • President Biden’s approval ratings have hovered in the mid-40s, a worry for Democrats ahead of an election cycle in which the party in power historically loses seats in Congress.
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