- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2012

DALLAS (AP) - In just the past few days, she’s danced with cheering school kids, chatted with troops, swapped ideas with busy parents and engaged in a friendly cooking competition with stars from “Top Chef.”

Michelle Obama is on a national tour to promote the second anniversary of her campaign against childhood obesity. The images have been disarming, intriguing and non-political _ just the type of thing her husband’s re-election campaign can’t get enough of.

Five years to the day after Sen. Barack Obama announced he was running for president, Mrs. Obama’s travels this week offer fresh evidence of what an out-sized role she’s assumed in the public eye and how powerful a political asset a first lady can be.

And, make no mistake, Mrs. Obama says she’s “incredibly enthusiastic” about making the case for her husband’s re-election.

Simply put, “I want him to be my president for another four years,” she said in a 40-minute interview Friday with a handful of reporters.

In recent weeks Mrs. Obama has seemingly been everywhere: Doing pushups with Ellen DeGeneres. Serving veggie pizza to Jay Leno. Playing tug-of-war with Jimmy Fallon in the White House. And now making a rare four-state tour _ Arkansas, Florida, Iowa and Texas _ to mark the two-year-point for her “Let’s Move” initiative.

The first lady draws a line between her policy efforts on childhood obesity and her political activities. But such distinctions often are lost on the public.

In an election year, it’s all to the good for Barack Obama that his popular wife is traveling the country promoting can’t-miss issues like healthy living.

“This is a bit of a two-fer,” Mrs. Obama acknowledged in her interview on Friday, “because it’s an issue that I care about, and it’s an issue that’s important to the country. … I want to make sure that what I do enhances him.”

The first lady added that she knew from the beginning of her husband’s presidency that she had to choose issues that were important to her personally because “if you’re just doing it for political reasons or there’s some ulterior, people smell that out so easily and it’s hard to sustain.”

To a more limited extent, Mrs. Obama also fills a more overtly political role by headlining private fundraisers that raise millions for her husband’s campaign, reaching out to supporters through conference calls to various states and shooting out periodic emails to campaign backers around the country.

That part of her labors will increase considerably in the months to come.

But the first lady said she’s careful to protect her time as “Sasha and Malia’s mom.”

“My approach to campaigning is, `This is the time that I have to give to the campaign and whatever you do with that time is up to you, but when it’s over, don’t even look at me. … No calls. No anything.”

For now, the first lady’s most visible role is tied to her signature issue of fighting obesity, allowing her to connect with voters on an emotional level and relate to them as a mother who has struggled with some of the same challenges that other families face.

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