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Obama's book for children shows a softer side

'Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters' may improve his image with women voters.

November 17, 2010|By Peter Nicholas, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — When speaking to voters in recent months, President Obama has been apt to criticize Republicans as schemers who wrecked the economy and deserved a "back seat" in American politics.

But a softer, gentler Obama emerges in the pages of his new children's book, perhaps the first step in a reinvention that Democrats hope will win back some of the women voters turned off by the cool, lecturing partisan who got a "shellacking" in the midterm election.

Obama's picture book, "Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters," was released in bookstores Tuesday. His third book might prove every bit as useful to his political career as the first two.

The book, illustrated by Loren Long, shows Obama's two daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, on the cover walking their dog Bo on a sun-dappled lawn.

"Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?" the book begins. "How the sound of your feet running from afar brings dancing rhythms to my day?"

Obama wrote the book himself, his lawyer said, submitting the manuscript before he took office in January 2009.

"This author writes his own content," said Robert Barnett, who represented Obama in the book deal. "It was written totally by him, every word."

The book, which celebrates 13 Americans, including Sitting Bull and George Washington, is Obama's second installment in a three-book contract he signed in 2004. The first one, "The Audacity of Hope," helped propel his presidential bid.

The text has a lyrical tone reminiscent of Obama's autobiography, "Dreams From My Father."

Along with Twitter, Web videos and Facebook, the White House has used every new media outlet available to reach voters not normally paying attention to politics. Obama's children's book, with a first printing of half a million copies, is a chance for him to extend that reach to a prized demographic: mothers.

The book allows the president to reintroduce himself to women who, surveys show, have cooled to him since the 2008 presidential election. A Gallup poll released this month showed Obama's approval rating among women at 46% — down from 70% in the weeks after he took office.

A survey released this month by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm, shows that only 40% of married women rated Obama as either excellent or good, compared with 59% who judged him fair or poor.

The White House wants to drive those figures back up. To that end, next week Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will appear on an hourlong Barbara Walters show, "A Thanksgiving Visit With President and Mrs. Obama." ABC will air the interview on Nov. 26 — the day after Thanksgiving.

Pollsters who've studied Obama's ups and downs said the children's book, in particular, might prove important to Obama's recovery.

Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, said in an interview that Obama tended to talk in big-picture, macroeconomic terms that don't resonate with women voters.

"Women tend to respond more to the personal, to the micro," Lake said. "One of the voting groups that he did quite poorly with was married women — including married moms — so this book is a wonderful opportunity."

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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