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Poll: Michelle Obama does better against Hillary Clinton than Elizabeth Warren would

Who would win IN BATTLE?
Who would win IN BATTLE?
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

As part of the ongoing efforts of journalists and pollsters to think of a way — any way — that the 2016 Democratic presidential primary could wind up being competitive and exciting, Rasmussen just released a poll floating a new potential challenger to Hillary Clinton: Michelle Obama.

The poll finds that among likely Democratic voters, Clinton would beat Obama, 56 percent to 22 percent. While that's not exactly encouraging, it's a better performance than Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, or any of the actual likely candidates like Bernie Sanders or Martin O'Malley, who all trail Clinton by bigger margins in recent polling (albeit in polls of the full field, not the one-on-one matchup Rasmussen presented). Given that, Rasmussen's findings suggest Obama is the strongest challenger Clinton could theoretically face, at least among potential contenders who've been polled.

But let's be real: Michelle Obama is not going to run for president. By most accounts, the Obamas are planning to move to New York City after leaving the White House, where the president will run a foundation, or maybe start teaching law again; Michelle was a top administrator at University of Chicago Hospitals before Barack became president, and while there's been less speculation about her post–White House career it seems probable she'd start back into the nonprofit or private sector, too. When Ellen DeGeneres asked Michelle if she or her daughters would ever enter politics, the First Lady replied forcefully, "No. Absolutely not."

And, of course, the poll suggests she wouldn't even win if she wanted the job. But there's a more viable option if she changes her mind about politics. Barack's old Illinois Senate seat is currently held by a Republican, Mark Kirk, who's up for reelection next year. Kirk has used the possibility of a Michelle run — which she's repeatedly ruled out — as a fundraising pitch. And he has reason to worry if she reverses course. A poll in December 2012 found Michelle beating Kirk by 11 points, and a more recent one from the conservative outlet Human Events last April found her ahead by 5.