CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Michelle Obama asked voters Thursday to make their choice on the issues, not because, "I like that guy" or, "she's cute."
Might she be talking about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin?
"I'm talking about me," she said with a smile.
Barack Obama's wife, however, is not on the ticket in the presidential election. Palin is.
Michelle Obama is part of a concerted effort involving her husband, his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to neutralize the appeal that Palin has brought to John McCain's ticket for some female voters. They are doing so unmistakably but gingerly, so as to not appear sexist or invite another lipstick-on-a-pig tempest.
Michelle Obama's remarks came at a women's roundtable on the economy. She told the audience of 600 that her husband is the only candidate focused on equal pay, health care, affordable college, teacher recruitment and other issues of concern to women. She said that's what the election should be about.
"People shouldn't make a decision this time based on, 'I like that guy' or 'she's cute,'" she said.
The line won a big round of applause. Before it subsided, she interjected: "And I'm talking about me."
She did not talk about Palin directly in her remarks. Her supportive crowd did, chanting "No Palin" before the event started.
Michelle Obama opened her week by telling supporters in a memo that "women voters could decide this election" _ words that have amounted to marching orders _ and said Thursday they "are going to make the difference."
Biden has been talking about what Obama would do to help women achieve pay equity with men, a subject Obama is highlighting in TV and radio ads. Clinton has been working hard to keep the millions of women who supported her over Obama in the primaries from drifting to the GOP ticket.
Clinton and Biden joined in a Webcast this week with tens of thousands of her supporters. The Obama campaign also is trumpeting the endorsement of Lilly Ledbetter, the former auto parts worker who successfully took her equal pay dispute to the Supreme Court.
Author, poet and former Clinton backer Maya Angelou capped Michelle Obama's outreach by introducing her on stage at an event Thursday in Greensboro.
"We need you," Michelle Obama told the women she addressed in Charlotte. "Our families need you. Our country needs you."
Trisha Redwine, a lifelong Democrat in Charlotte, said women didn't seem to be needed by the Democratic ticket until recently. "It's almost like we didn't even matter until Sarah Palin came into the picture," she said.
Redwine backed Clinton in the primaries and now speaks favorably of McCain's efforts on family medical leave and family-friendly workplaces.
Eleanor Brawley, 75, of Charlotte said Michelle Obama's speech convinced her that the Democratic candidate is better suited to handle issues important to women. "I've always been described as a feminist," she said, "and I don't see Sarah Palin as a feminist."
Polls suggest Palin, the Alaska governor, has helped McCain tighten the race.
Obama narrowly led among women 49 percent to 44 percent but trailed McCain among white women 53 percent to 40 percent in an Associated Press-GfK Poll of likely voters this month.
Republicans cried sexism when Obama described McCain's policies as lipstick on a pig, days after Palin made a lipstick joke at the GOP convention. Obama's remarks were not about Palin and McCain himself said he did not think his rival was calling Palin a pig. But the storm, stoked by McCain's campaign, went on for days.