This year, the Obama girls aren't spending much time on the campaign trail—but their presence is felt by voters, writes Jodi Kantor in the New York Times. While they don't speak much publicly, they are much spoken about by their parents. In the stories the president and first lady tell, they depict a very ordinary family life, with Malia and Sasha playing sports, going to summer camp, and "strategizing about middle-school friendships" with their father, as Michelle Obama put it. And that makes these election "bit players" important ones, explains Kantor, "not as campaigners but as characters, highlighting traits important to their father’s re-election hopes: his likability and his family-man image."
As with any family, there are some house rules. For instance, the girls can't watch TV or use cell phones during the week; if they go on trips, they have to write reports; they must play a sport of their choosing in addition to one their mother picks. "I want them to understand what it feels like to do something you don’t like and to improve," Michelle says. Thanks to their parents' push for privacy and the media's acquiescence, "they are a bit of a mystery," says filmmaker JJ Abrams, who backs Obama. "But they’re authentic, and we’re starving for that."