Michelle Obama has evolved into one of her husband's most effective advocates

Mon, Nov 3, 2008, 00:00

IF BARACK Obama wins the presidential election tomorrow, the world will doubtless marvel at the racial threshold the US has crossed. Perhaps even more striking, however, will be the prospect of the country's first black first lady moving into the White House with her two young daughters.

Often compared to Jacqueline Kennedy, who also raised a young family in the White House, Michelle Obama has evolved into one of her husband's most effective advocates. Her every outfit scrutinised and her every sentence minutely parsed, she has withstood a searing media focus over the past 21 months.

Depicted on conservative talk radio as an angry feminist elitist whose patriotism is open to question, Mrs Obama was at one stage during the primaries steered away from campaigning in the kind of blue-collar communities that took so well to Hillary Clinton but so badly to the junior senator from Illinois.

Like her husband, who riled many people when he said that small-town America sought relief from its economic woes by "clinging" to guns and God, Mrs Obama has made only one outsized gaffe during the course of the campaign. In a line that both Cindy McCain and Sarah Palin were later to pick up on, she said her husband's success meant she was proud of the US for the first time in her adult life.

Before foraying into more expensive couture, Ms Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate was seen wearing a T-shirt that said: "Always Proud".

Bill O'Reilly, the conservative Fox News anchor, said on air that he wanted to ascertain the truth of Mrs Obama's remarks before sending out a "lynching party".

Another Fox anchor described a playful bumping of fists the Obamas exchanged on stage as a "terrorist fistbump".

And the internet was awash with rumours that Mrs Obama had been captured on tape several years ago railing about "whitey" at Jeremiah Wright's church in Chicago.

The tape never existed. The fist bump did not recur. And the worst fears about Mrs Obama becoming a direct target in the campaign went unrealised. Most people in the Obama campaign attribute this turnaround to the woman herself.

"There were a lot of reports that Michelle was over-handled or excessively scripted by the campaign, which weren't true," said an Obama campaign official. "I think it's safe to say she's way more intelligent than most people around her and is very disciplined about getting her point across." - ( Financial Times service)