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Barack & Michelle Obama and Women...(Hillary)

The partnership between Barack and Michelle Obama - complete with candour, fist bumps and public affection - has been essential to his fast rise up the political mountain. There were moments when his ambition and long stretches away from the family got to her, especially when their daughters were younger. The Democratic nominee-in-waiting has recalled times when, as a state legislator, he would return home and be lucky to get more than a lukewarm peck on the cheek.

Monday night, Michelle took the stage for herself, not just to reaffirm how wonderful her husband is, and what a fine president he would make, but also to redefine herself. But before mounting the podium, she gathered herself backstage in a holding room near the lockers of Denver's professional hockey team. Big moments demand big performances, and she seemed determined not to let the occasion rattle her, but to soar above it.

Her brother, Craig Robinson, the Oregon State basketball coach and one of the Ivy League's all-time leading scorers, was loose: "I'm terrific. Very excited." But then he was summoned back to the holding room, to make sure he didn't mess up the moment with some fashion faux pas. "My sister wanted to make sure my tie was straight," he said. His bright orange tie.

Right before it was time to head onstage, Michelle took a deep breath, straightened the lines on her dress and then, to whoops from family and aides, walked down the hall like it was game time. She stood beneath the podium for a few minutes and listened to her brother introduce her.

When it was finally her turn to address the convention delegates and a national televised audience, she described herself as a sister, a mom, a wife and a daughter, someone who loves her country and has tried to give back to it.

One day, she told the crowd, her children's children and future generations will tell the story of "how this time we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming."

Batting first in the prime-time Democratic lineup may have put some extra pressure on her - she was super serious, barely able to find a smile during an early morning practice session in the convention hall here. But by the time it was over, the blue Michelle signs were hoisted in every delegation, and she swayed her hips a little to Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," as daughters Sasha and Malia also got into the groove.

That dynamic duo tried to steal the show when their mother was done, telling their daddy, who appeared in the hall via video conference, that Mommy had done great. And that they loved him. And, "what city are you in, Daddy?" asked Sasha.

Some delegates and convention-goers seemed mesmerized by Michelle's performance."Oh, my God, do you believe it?" said Marsha Campbell, a Denver elementary school teacher, her hands cupped over her mouth. "I think she's one of the most dynamic women I've ever listened to. Not only is she dynamic, she's smart, down to earth. I think she is the perfect reflection of what every woman in America would like to be."

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Michelle Obama

Campbell was still milling about the hall, long after the evening had ended, kind of in a happy trancelike state. "I'm not kidding you," she went on about Michelle's speech and poise. "Have you ever?"Aides have been frustrated by some of the portrayals of Michelle as sharp, driven, unpatriotic. Shaping her image for a national audience was as important a part of the night's programme as her testimonial on behalf of her husband.

A biographical video narrated by Michelle's mother, Marian Robinson, highlighted her daughter's working-class upbringing on Chicago's South Side. Michelle's father, Fraser Robinson, was a Chicago water department employee who rarely missed a day at work until the day he died from multiple sclerosis, while Marian stayed home and raised two children who went on to Princeton.

"South Side Girl" features appearances by some of those who have worked closely with Michelle and remain friends: Jobi Cates, who worked with Michelle in the early 1990s at Public Allies, a youth leadership training programme. Yvonne Davila, who met Michelle 20 years ago when they were young staffers in the office of Chicago Mayor Richard M Daley.

Travis Rejman, who created the Goldin Institute, dedicated to supporting grass-roots efforts to alleviate poverty and sustain the environment. Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor and mentor of Michelle's.Whether through film or speech or testimonial, the effort on Monday night was to frame Michelle in a way that would help Americans see her as the next first lady.

"The point was really to introduce Michelle to the public for the first time and let them see that she is very different from the caricatures displayed in the news," said Ogletree, an adviser who has spoken with her periodically throughout the campaign. "Michelle is not a politician. She is a mother and a wife and a working woman and a community organiser."And by that, he meant someone whose presentation of herself and her relationship with her husband is not always politically careful.