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In Re-Election Battle, Obama Banks On First Lady's Appeal

In Re-Election Battle, Obama Banks On First Lady's Appeal

By Alexis Simendinger - June 7, 2011


Michelle Obama is immensely fond of tamales, but not of snakes. She thinks her husband can be stubborn, and when he bemoans the frustrations of his job she reminds him that he volunteered for it. She keeps a watchful eye on the president's healthy food choices, as well as his neck ties. And the most popular thing Barack Obama ever did was marry Michelle.

How do we know these things? Because the president loves to share tidbits about his wife, his marriage and his family background during all sorts of public appearances. During re-election fundraisers and trips around the country to speak with voters, the president finds ways to draw the more popular Obama into the conversation.

In the president's telling, the first lady is the asset who brings him down to earth, who makes their duo approachable, human and, if not exactly like the couple next door, at least like regular folks.

"If you were going to list the hundred most popular things that I have done as president, being married to Michelle Obama is number one," the president said during an appearance in Baltimore last year. Obama turned his wife into a proxy for a smart and easy decision, compared with tough but necessary choices that brought him grief as president. "Bailing out banks and rescuing failing auto companies doesn't make the list," he added in the next breath.

Pollsters point out that President Obama enjoys an enduring and unusual advantage while governing through the worst recession since the Great Depression, two wars, and a period of shaken American trust in most institutions. People like him. They may not like Obama's policies or the job he's been doing as president, but they believe he's a decent guy who cares about their worries.

To win re-election as the incumbent next year under the weight of high unemployment and intense criticism from Republican challengers will take something special, and high favorability just might be an edge. The president's favorable rating was 63 percent the week after he announced that Osama bin Laden was dead. That was close to 10 points higher than his job approval numbers -- a differential that has remained throughout his presidency.

Two-thirds of American voters view Michelle favorably, a decided plus along the campaign trail, especially among younger voters, according to a Marist poll. Her standing in May compared with a peak of 72 percent in the first lady's favorability shortly after the launch of her campaign to reduce childhood obesity in 2009.

Michelle, at least in the president's recent speeches, emerges as his useful touchstone to build bridges through the four F's: food, fashion, fitness and family.

During a Cinco de Mayo speech a month ago, the president mentioned his wife's love of Mexican food, and the audience ate it up.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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