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Malia Obama: Old enough to be 2012 campaigner?

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And the Obama girls?

“They’re the most popular unit of the family,” said Tom Jensen, the director of Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling. “Who doesn’t like the girls?”

His firm surveyed the girls’ popularity in 2009 and found them with numbers politicos would covet: a 54 percent favorability rating and an unfavorable standing of just 5 percent, numbers that he thinks are unlikely to have moved much.

Jensen notes that family is a big factor for President Obama, whom polls show people like even if they’re not crazy about his stewardship of the economy.

“Children have a kind of humanizing impact, and that’s really what Obama needs,” Jensen said. “Voters feel like things haven’t changed as much as they wanted. The economy still is not where they wanted it to be. He needs people to vote more on whether they like him or not, regardless of his record of accomplishment.”

A Gallup poll last week found Obama with a wide lead over Romney when it comes to personal likability.

“With that small swath of swing voters that everyone wants, if something gets people to think about Obama the man, as opposed to Obama the guardian of the economy, he’s in better shape,” Jensen said.

The news media have largely hewn to an understanding that the Obama girls are off-limits for coverage, unless they’re with their parents at a public event. When a wire service reported a spring-break trip to Mexico by one of the girls in March, the White House urged websites not to run it.

“The president and first lady are loving parents who have made shielding their daughters from the glare of the media spotlight a high priority and are pleased by the respect that media, by and large, has shown for their daughters’ privacy,” said Josh Earnest, the principal deputy White House press secretary.

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