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With this campaign, the worries for the girls have, if anything, deepened. And the dislike of politics hasn't dissolved. Michelle can't bring herself, for instance, to watch the debates; she's too frustrated by their focus on 60-second solutions to what are really 10-year problems. And she's happy to keep her distance from the campaign office fray; when she calls the office—which isn't often—it's usually with a scheduling question. (Barack's top political strategist, David Axelrod, sounds thankful when he says, "She doesn't play the Bigfoot role on a regular basis.")

What's different this time around is Michelle's sense of a real opportunity: the convergence of a national need for change and a man who can deliver it. Her ardor in supporting Barack for president has surprised even Barack himself. "She has been much more enthusiastic than I expected," he says. "Much more engaged and involved."

This doesn't mean that her support is entirely conventional—as I saw when I tagged along this summer the day she gave a speech at the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. Wearing a bold print dress and big pearls, she was at ease behind the preacher's podium, but as she neared the end of her lunchtime remarks, something was bothering me.

In the cavernous multipurpose room usually reserved for gospel concerts, basketball games, and overflow church crowds, she had told the mostly African-American audience of 350 women and a handful of men how hard she's working to make sure her daughters have a "regular life" while their father runs for president. She spoke about the importance of exercising and eating right (her admonition too late to protect the strawberry cheesecake that had followed the baked chicken, rice pilaf, green beans, and sweet tea). She complained about the demands of a modern woman's life: juggling work and family, a sick child and an overflowing toilet with the added pressure to be an "attractive, charming, and delightful" mate. "I know I can get an amen on that. I'm tired just thinking about it," she said. She told the story of a trip to Kenya, where, in the district of Siaya, she and her husband met a group of grandmothers who'd come together to care for their grandchildren orphaned by AIDS.

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