President Barack Obama teamed up with his popular and personable wife Wednesday on the final leg of a three-day bus trip, seeking to use her broad appeal to rally support for elements of his jobs bill and his re-election campaign.
Michelle Obama's appearance on her husband's driving tour through North Carolina and Virginia, two politically important Southern states, comes as she takes a more active role in the 2012 campaign.
Her stated purpose Wednesday was to help the president announce a commitment from several companies to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013. The first lady has been leading a national campaign to rally the country around veterans.
But Mrs. Obama is also a not-so-secret weapon for the White House and the Obama presidential campaign. While her husband's approval ratings have fallen to the mid- to low 40s, the first lady's poll numbers remain high.
And the president, who can sometimes come off as professorial, is clearly more at ease when his wife is by his side.
"How lucky am I to be married to Michelle Obama?" Obama said after being introduced by his wife at an event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.
He offered advice to the unmarried men in the audience: "The whole goal is to marry up. Try to improve your gene pool."
The Obamas announced that the American Logistics Association, which includes major companies like Tyson Foods Inc. and the Coca-Cola Co., pledged to hire more than 25,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013.
The president called for bipartisan support for a proposal in his jobs bill that would give small businesses tax breaks if they hire out-of-work veterans. Larger tax breaks would go to businesses that hire unemployed wounded service members.
"When I first proposed this idea in a joint session of Congress, people stood up and applauded on both sides of the aisle," Obama said about tax credits to encourage hiring of veterans. "So when it comes for a vote in the Senate, I expect to get votes from both sides of the aisle. Don't just applaud about it. Vote for it."
Still, with his wife at his side in a military setting, Obama's pitch for his jobs bill was far less partisan than it has been across his bus tour of North Carolina and Virginia. He didn't target at length the Republican lawmakers who have voted against his plan, promising more broadly to keep pushing Congress to pass a bill that's now been broken into pieces.
From the military base, the first lady joined her husband on his impenetrable-looking, million-dollar black bus as it hit the road.
After a short drive, the Obamas stopped off to buy pumpkins at a roadside produce stand, one of several unscheduled stops the president made in the two states.
Mrs. Obama has an easy way with the public that makes her a natural for the retail, roadside politics that are a staple of presidential campaigns. She chatted with shoppers at the Wood's Orchard produce stand and hugged the couple that owned the store so frequently that they appeared to be old friends, not strangers.
Mrs. Obama also joined her husband for lunch with a small group of veterans at Anna's Pizza and Italian Kitchen, a strip mall restaurant in Hampton, Va.
With her husband bracing for a tough re-election fight, the first lady has promised to put herself into the campaign effort like never before. Since mid-May, she's headlined more than 15 fundraisers for her husband and the Democratic Party. And she's blasted out mass emails to the party faithful urging them to support her husband.
After lunch in Hampton, the first lady was headed to St. Louis for the first game of the World Series. Major League Baseball is dedicating the game to veterans and their families, and Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, were scheduled to participate in a pregame ceremony.
The president, meanwhile, continued on to the final stop on his bus trip, a speech at a fire station in North Chesterfield, Va., where he made one more appeal for his jobs bill, this time focusing on his call for $35 billion in aid for state and local governments in order to keep fire fighters, police officers and teachers on the job.
Republicans have criticized Obama's bus trip through two states his campaign wants to win in 2012 as being more about selling the president's re-election than solving the country's economic woes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday: "Let's park the campaign bus, put away the talking points, and do something to address this jobs crisis."