Can the First Wives help their husbands win?

It’s an honest question. I might at first be tempted to argue that, what with the horrible state of the economy, jobs, and the national debt, Americans have bigger fish to fry insofar as their presidential-election interests go. But, then again, here we are harping about tax hikes that would barely make a dent in the deficit and perfectly legitimate business practices that lead to economic growth for all involved parties (a.k.a., offshoring), so maybe that’s an overstep.

I have to admit, from what I know of her so far, I legitimately like Ann Romney quite a bit — she just seems like a caring, capable, and elegant lady who’s found her center. Granted, as someone who’s already a staunch conservative, my liking of Mrs. Romney has no bearing on my support for her husband, but I can’t imagine her public image at all detracting from Mitt’s chances with voters less rigid than myself (but then again, I also can’t fathom what goes on in the minds of the populist, class-warmongering ilk, so, wash). As we’ve already seen on multiple occasions, Mrs. Romney helps to soften the sometimes-stodgy Mitt up a bit, and BuzzFeed wonders whether she mightn’t be a steady character-shield against the Obama camp’s relentless attacks:

With presidential campaign rhetoric almost exclusively concerned at the moment with issues of character — as corruption, secrecy, and honesty become major themes in both sides’ talking points — the Romney campaign could begin using the candidate’s sympathetic wife as a shield.

In an interview with BuzzFeed about the Obama campaign’s recent assault on Romney’s personal finances, a Romney adviser repeatedly brought up Ann Romney’s name unprompted, arguing that the attacks were aimed at her as well. …

The adviser added, “Nobody’s perfect, but there’s a level of decency that shines through with Gov. Romney and Ann and the family that no one can deny.” …

…[P]olls back up the idea that Ann Romney is popular — at least among those who know she is. Twenty-seven percent of independents give her a “favorable” rating against an “unfavorable” number of only 15% — but the rest say they don’t know her well enough to form an opinion.

First Lady Michelle Obama, meanwhile, enjoys solid across-the-board popularity, and it looks like the Obama campaign is willing to test the theory. She’s been known to be a sometimes reluctant campaigner, but Mrs. Obama recently started touring in a push to convince Americans to first show up at the polls and then vote for her husband with her new “It Takes One” campaign:

The program, which aims to increase voter registration and turnout through grassroots organizing, is part of a broader effort to engage the first lady in the campaign at large – as well as with the people who will determine its outcome. …

There’s no question that, at least according to recent polls, the first lady is a generally well-liked figure. A May Gallup poll showed her with a favorability rating at 66 percent, a good 14 points higher than her husband’s rating in the same poll. Similarly, a June Pew Poll showed her with 64 percent favorability, and both surveys show her favorability rating has not dipped below 60 percent since her husband took office.

Nevertheless, according to Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief of Gallup Polls, it’s tricky to determine exactly how much a first lady can do for the president’s campaign – even if she’s popular.

“It’s very hard to tease out what impact a first lady has in a presidential campaign. People ask the same question about vice presidential candidates: It’s difficult to be able to say that they do or don’t make much of a difference,” according to Newport, who cited a dearth of polling data specific to first ladies.

In an election this close, I’d say it very well might matter if the candidates’ wives can help make their husbands more accessible on a personal and familial level, and I doubt it would be a bad idea to try — especially in the case of the lesser-known Mitt Romney. Who can tell what will end up swaying the minds of those last few voters at the margins?