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Michelle Obama: Anniversary debate double date isn't ideal

By Jessica Yellin and Gabriella Schwarz, CNN
updated 11:54 PM EDT, Wed October 3, 2012
  • Obamas will spend 20th wedding anniversary with the Romneys ... at debate
  • "Barack doesn't have a big ego," Michelle Obama says
  • Family, she said, is "at the core of this country"
  • Election "couldn't be more important for women" regarding decisions for "our bodies"

Denver (CNN) -- To the political world, October 3 is a high-stakes night in the presidential election. But for first lady Michelle Obama, it's the date night that wasn't.

"I told Barack, 'This, you know, attending a presidential debate on my 20th anniversary is probably the worst way for me to spend (it).' ... I get so nervous at these debates," she said in a recent interview alongside her brother, Craig Robinson.

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Twenty years ago, Michelle Robinson wed Barack Obama in a Chicago ceremony. She never would have predicted spending her 20th wedding anniversary on a double date with the Romneys.

"I would not have chosen this, but I'm excited about it," she said.

Although the first lady will be in the audience in Denver to watch President Obama debate Wednesday night, she did not offer a critique of her husband, even when pressed.

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"I really would probably be the worst person to assess his style or his techniques," she said.

In fact, she suggested that she worries about her own performance, with all eyes judging her every reaction.

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"There are the rules, and you don't want to clap. ... So I'm just trying to make sure I'm following the rules," Obama said.

She may have jitters on debate day, but she was not nervous when she wed young Barack Obama in 1992. Instead, she was focused on the next step: their honeymoon.

"It was just sort of, 'OK, now we're going to do this, and we'll get it done, and then we'll go on our honeymoon,' " she remembered. "So I was really excited about the honeymoon, actually."

As for the groom, he had a cold.

"We were teasing him about 'OK, whatever you do, don't sneeze while you're saying your vows," said Robinson, who served as a groomsman. "I remember we had a big laugh about that."

But the first lady said the future president's congestion vanished at the altar.

"My sister has that affect on people," Robinson said with a laugh.

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Robinson, the older of the siblings, who coaches the Oregon State University basketball team and has hit the court with his brother-in-law, insisted that the president's playing style is that of a team player.

"One of the first things I saw on the basketball court was his lack of ego," Robinson said. "The game wasn't about him. It was about the game and about his teammates."

Some observers have suggested that it is the first lady who grounds the president and keeps his ego in check, but Obama was adamant that this president is grounded on his own.

"Barack doesn't have a big ego," she said. "That would kind of be the last thing that I would think of when I talk about my husband is big ego, because he doesn't have that. So it's not much to check."

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Their similar values, she said, were part of the reason their union made sense and are something she references on the campaign trail.

She has visited all of the battleground states during the 2012 election cycle on behalf of the Democratic ticket, enough stops to have her own stump speech. In her addresses, she describes the values she and her husband hold and how she believes his policies will positively affect voters across the country, particularly those in the middle class.

She often says they were both taught the value of hard work.

"We learned that the truth matters, so you don't take shortcuts or game the system or play by your own set of rules," she said at a recent campaign stop in Richmond, Virginia, a line oft repeated in her speeches.

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She declined to discuss Mitt Romney's values in contrast with her husband's, but she did offer a contrast between herself and Ann Romney.

The GOP nominee's wife recently told her husband's critics that running for president is hard. But Obama did not echo that sentiment.

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"The campaign experience is unique for everyone. ... For me, I really enjoyed campaigning," she said. "I get energy from it, and I always have. And I've always said that. That it's, I never thought a few years ago that I would enjoy it this much, but I really do."

Despite the first couple's campaign schedule, they make a point to be home for dinner at 6:30 p.m. The president admitted that might contribute to his difficulty cultivating relationships in the nation's capital. But the first lady was quick to defend their schedule, saying there is never a downside to family time and suggesting that the 44th president is setting a good example for other fathers across the country.

Family, she said, is "at the core of this country."

"I mean, in the end, this is what we're here for," she added. "We're here to make sure that we're giving every family an opportunity to have the kind of stability and opportunities for the future, for themselves and for their kids. And I think the best thing we can do is to model that in our own homes."

She said that the Obamas are trying to provide as normal a life as possible for their two daughters, Malia and Sasha, but that neither she nor the president "plays the heavy."

"This is the thing I like about Barack. ... He is very good at reinforcing the rules and boundaries that we set. We never get into that 'but Dad said.' We're very good at not letting the kids play off of us," she said.

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Michelle Obama said the threat of withholding television on the weekends helps keep the girls out of trouble.

"They already have limited TV time," she said. "Trust me, if you only get two hours on Saturday and to lose those two hours, you don't."

Although a childhood in the White House is by no means normal, Robinson claimed they still seem like the girls he knew in Chicago.

"What's amazing for me is to watch, when I come to the White House, it's the White House. ... But inside, in the living quarters, watching my sister and the president operate with their family, it's refreshing, because the only thing that's different is they're in the White House," Robinson said. "It doesn't seem normal, because we're from the South Side of Chicago, but the behavior's all normal."

The first lady said she is too focused on the November election to offer specifics on what her potential second-term agenda would look like but said she would continue work on issues she's championed in the president's first term.

She has advocated on behalf of veterans returning home from service and healthy living practices among young people through her Let's Move campaign. She often speaks to women on the campaign trail; the number of them in poverty has grown during President Obama's term to a 17-year high.

She said this presidential election "couldn't be more important for women" when it comes to equal pay, health care and making decisions about "our bodies."

"As a woman and as a mother with two girls, I want to make sure that my daughters make those decisions for themselves," Obama said. "So many issues will impact the quality of our lives as women for decades to come. ... I'm spending a lot of time out there talking to women to make sure that they understand all that's on the line."

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