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Michelle Obama for Senate?

By Sally Kohn
updated 8:47 PM EDT, Fri June 6, 2014
First lady Michelle Obama celebrates her 50th birthday on Friday, January 17. Click through the gallery to see photos from her life. First lady Michelle Obama celebrates her 50th birthday on Friday, January 17. Click through the gallery to see photos from her life.
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Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
Michelle Obama turns 50
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sally Kohn: Article notes Michelle Obama's recent higher profile. Does it presage Senate run?
  • Why not? she says. Before becoming first lady, she was accomplished attorney
  • Kohn says she's been effective advocate on nutrition, military families; her approval rating high
  • Kohn: She'd be a formidable candidate, and America seems to like to see her in public eye

Editor's note: Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- It's not surprising there's speculation that Michelle Obama might run for the United States Senate — although one should note that at this point, that's all it is: speculation — made mainly in a Reuters article written by Keith Koffler, editor of the website White House Dossier.

The fact is, however, Michelle Obama is a highly effective and popular public figure and would make a gifted elected leader.

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

We should remember that before Barack Obama's presidency, Michelle Obama was perhaps even more of a superstar than her husband. An accomplished attorney, she was an assistant to the mayor of Chicago in the early 1990s, as well as an assistant commissioner of planning and development for the city.

After running the Chicago branch of the nonprofit Public Allies, which gets young people engaged in nonprofit and government leadership, Obama moved to the University of Chicago, eventually rising to be vice president of the university's extensive hospitals network.

In our unequal country where so many people are vastly and unfairly underpaid, income certainly isn't an accurate measure of talent. But it certainly is often a good measure of power. In 2006, Sen. Barack Obama reported a salary of $157,082. The same year, Michelle Obama's salary was $273,618.

As first lady, Michelle Obama has managed to be both iconic and accessible, a hard-to-achieve but quintessential balancing act for the greatest of political leaders. She has taken on the important issues of child nutrition and obesity, as well as the challenges facing our nation's military families. And on both issues, her unflagging leadership and unimpeachable achievements have been clear.

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But no doubt the speculation about Obama's next steps is partly related to this: Voters who enthusiastically supported her husband's campaign have been disillusioned by the messiness of governance, largely due to the unprecedented hostility of the Republican Party, but certainly made worse by President Obama's inability to outmaneuver his opponents either in rhetoric or in legislation.

All that hope and change can fizzle in the face of reality, but Michelle Obama still seems full of the same optimism that once drove voters to the polls. Moreover, those of us who often long to see President Obama be more confrontational, or even angry and aggressive, sometimes see more of that raw fighting spirit in his wife. Should she someday choose to run for office, Michelle Obama may prove an even more gifted politician than her husband, especially when it comes to dodging the incoming attacks and getting things done.

All the buzzing around Hillary Clinton's potential presidential run can't help but encourage the speculation about Michelle Obama, the prospect of another first lady running for the Senate and maybe, someday, a higher office. It's worth noting that Michelle Obama's approval ratings are higher than Hillary Clinton's were when she was first lady. Michelle Obama's approval ratings are also higher than her husband's.

The political stars might certainly be aligned: Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois is a Republican in the Obamas' Democratic home state and would be up for re-election in November 2016, just as the Obama White House would be drawing to an end.

Should Michelle Obama choose to run, she would be a formidable candidate in every way, from public speaking to fundraising to policy to media and more. But either way, just the fact that anyone is speculating sends a flattering signal to a beloved first lady who America would clearly like to keep in the public eye.

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