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Michelle Obama in Europe -- could she upstage her husband?

March 30, 2009 | 11:04 am

Michelle Obama addressing the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008

President Obama sets off Tuesday on an eight-day, five-country trip to Europe, his first overseas journey as president, to tackle issues like the global economic meltdown and the increasing threat from terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With his popularity higher than most of the G-20 leaders he'll be meeting with, the president's biggest challenge will be convincing reluctant counterparts to invest more in their infrastructures. As Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel put it the other day, "I will not let anyone tell me to spend more money."

Obama's also facing a snarky press corps in London, site of the G-20 meetings. Already, British reporters are carping about the size of Obama's entourage -- according to the Guardian, 500 officials, 200 Secret Service agents, a six-member medical team and a big presidential limo.


But Obama's biggest challenge could come from much closer to home.

First Lady Michelle Obama has apparently captivated the European press, which is threatening to track her every move. As Politico reported, one paper tracked down her high-school prom date, and another asked plaintively, “Why Doesn’t the UK Have a Michelle Obama?”

Meeting with the queen, the first lady will be judged on her curtsy (will she or won't she?), her clothes and her ambiance. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was such a star in France in 1961 that President Kennedy took to describing himself as the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Europe. Will Obama use the same line?

Somehow, we think Obama, the first African American president in history and a man who wowed Europe on a visit during the presidential campaign, will get plenty of attention on his own.

But given Michelle Obama's interest in fashion -- and her working-class roots that seem to fascinate European intellectuals -- she could emerge as the star of the show.

Her every ensemble will be front page news and endlessly interpreted and decoded,” said Patricia McDonald, a London-based editor for the Michelle Obama fashion blog, “Will she break out a new wardrobe, or in deference to the economy, recycle her greatest hits?”

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images