When a PEOPLE team set up shop for an afternoon at Barack and Michelle Obama's house in their leafy Chicago neighborhood in late June, we encountered an average American family on a lazy summer afternoon—if you don't count the Secret Service agents milling about and the gawkers across the street. Newly minted style icon Michelle confided that she'd bought her sundress at budget fashion mecca H&M and commiserated about the impossibility of keeping young girls' party shoes nice when they insist on wearing them everywhere. Sasha, the Obamas' younger daughter, ran in and out, wondering mainly when Daddy was coming home. We were wondering that too—until the senator arrived in his black SUV, entered the house in the back and cheerfully came out to the porch to welcome his visitors before changing into jeans and sitting for our photo shoot—the first to show the would-be First Family at home.

Sandra Sobieraj Westfall's resulting cover story catches Obama, Michelle and their daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, at a moment when they would like the American people to get to know them better. And over nearly 35 years, presidents and would-be presidents have come to PEOPLE to help them do just that. We sit down at the White House with the President and the First Lady virtually every Christmas, and last October we took readers on a ride with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain and the women in his life on the "Straight Talk Express." The goal of our coverage: to introduce the men and women behind the policy.

The Obamas tell us this will be the "first and last" up-close-and-personal look at them as a family. But watch these pages for more on both campaigns—and enjoy. It's going to be a fascinating election season, and we'll be right there.