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Michelle Obama’s story

In many ways she would make history as first lady.

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Her staff also speak highly of her, and say she exhibits great concern for them and their personal lives – not always a trademark of harried political candidates and their families.

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While she has alienated some on the right, Obama has also grown into an able campaigner and public speaker, drawing large crowds.

Rather than pushing her to the background, the campaign has tried to give her a fresh introduction to counter the negative image.

Earlier this summer, she hosted a segment of ABC’s “The View,” riffing with Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Whoopi Goldberg about her daughters, her fashion choices, and her decision not to wear pantyhose.

This week, in addition to the speech Monday night, she’ll be holding one of her trademark “roundtable discussions with working women” in Denver and will kick off a service day on Wednesday with the Governor’s wife.

In the roundtable discussions, which she’s held around the country, Obama focuses on the topic that seems closest to her heart: the challenges facing working mothers.

“There isn’t a moment that goes by that I’m not thinking about my little girls,” she told a packed audience in Pontiac, Mich., at one of these discussions. “The role I hold most dear is being mom.”

Despite the unavoidable craziness of a presidential campaign, Obama has made a monumental effort to minimize the disruptions to Malia and Sasha, scaling back her own campaigning when she can and taking as few overnight trips as possible.

Saturdays – when she and the girls engage in a weekly ritual involving ballet, tennis or soccer, McDonald’s, and a movie – are sacred.

“Above all else, she is a great parent,” says her brother. “Family comes first to her. It comes first naturally, and honestly.”

Talking about parenting – and about the challenges and choices that working mothers face – seems to come naturally as well, and it’s a topic that Obama riffs on easily, usually speaking without notes, in a relaxed, conversational style.

She gets nods from other women as she talks about the multiple hats most mothers are expected to wear, the guilt they feel when not spending time with their children, and the many directions in which they’re pulled.

And she tries to give listeners a window into her husband by talking about the three strong women in his life – his grandmother, his mother, and herself – and the ways in which their stories have helped him understand the issues important to women and mothers.

“These stories have really shaped who he has become as a man,” Obama told the Michigan audience, describing Barack’s grandmother hitting a glass ceiling in her job at a bank, and his mother’s effort to raise two children alone.

Obama has also been holding discussions with military spouses – speaking earlier this month with spouses in Norfolk, Va. – and has become interested in the particular challenges they face.

Both areas, say friends, are likely to continue to be Obama’s policy focus if she becomes first lady, though they’re hesitant to predict how active a presence she would be in the White House, since her daughters will continue to be her top priority.

“Michelle will create a new mold, and it’s too soon to say what it will be,” says close friend Valerie Jarrett.

Obama’s brother puts it even more simply: Obama would be a great first lady, Robinson says, because “everything she has ever done, she has done very well.”