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Wives of Presidential Hopefuls Discuss Political Life

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Wives of Presidential Hopefuls Discuss Political Life

Election 2008

Wives of Presidential Hopefuls Discuss Political Life

Wives of Presidential Hopefuls Discuss Political Life

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Democratic and Republican presidential candidates' wives attend the annual California Women's Conference hosted by the state's first lady Maria Shriver. They talk about the rigors of the campaign trail and political life.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The presidential candidates are having numerous debates this year - Democrats against Democrats, Republicans against Republicans. But yesterday in California, there was a panel of a different sort. The wives of several of the candidates from both parties spoke to a crowd of 14,000 people at the annual California Women's Conference in Long Beach. The conversation was not strictly about politics, but rather about the political life.

NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE: It took someone who's lived the political life to pull this panel together. Maria Shriver is California's first lady and niece of Ted Kennedy, and as a former NBC news anchor, she was used to her role as moderator.

Ms. MARIA SHRIVER (Wife of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger): Okay, I'm back in the old chair.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAFFE: The wives of all the frontrunners were there except Judith Giuliani and, well, Hillary Clinton's spouse, Bill, doesn't fit into the wife category. But Ann Romney, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Edwards, Cindy McCain and Jeri Thompson all acknowledged that running for office was a family affair. Michelle Obama said her 6 and 9-year-old daughters adjusted more quickly to the campaign than she did.

Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA (Wife of Presidential Candidate Barack Obama): Their main concern about this whole race was whether or not they could get a dog. That was the bargaining chip.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. OBAMA: It's like, you want to run for president? We're getting a dog. And let me tell you, we talk about this dog everyday - everyday. What kind are we going to get, you do know we're getting it, what breed, how big, how small…

JAFFE: Some political wives have been known as influential advisers to their husbands, but none of the panelists would admit to playing major strategy roles. Though Elizabeth Edwards said it's not always seen that way.

Ms. ELIZABETH EDWARDS (Wife of Presidential Candidate John Edwards): We do know our husbands best. Sometimes if we think he's being misrepresented or misserved(ph) by something, it's our job as wives to say, you know, I don't think that's really the best thing. That becomes, if you've spoken to the - said that to the wrong person, that becomes you are masterminding the campaign just because you were being the kind of spouse all of us hope to have.

JAFFE: Mostly, the wives talked about fighting for some balance in their lives - taking care of their husbands and their children while keeping an often grueling campaign schedule. Jeri Thompson said she struggles to keep some part of her personal life personal.

Ms. JERI THOMPSON: (Wife of Presidential Candidate Fred Thompson): I've likened the talking in a strip with no clothes on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. THOMPSON: Because, I mean, emotionally and all the other ways. And I think the intense interest in the spouse this time around might be because I think people are seeing for the first time the bone-crushing pressure.

JAFFE: Pressure on the candidates, but also on the spouses. Not to misspeak, said Elizabeth Edwards, to universal agreement.

Ms. EDWARDS: You know, if it ended up on the front page of Drudge, I didn't say it right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #1: You could've objected everything they (unintelligible).

Ms. EDWARDS: Please don't make me speak.

Unidentified Woman #1: Yeah.

Ms. EDWARDS: I don't want to make the front page today.

Unidentified Woman #1: And I read the clips and I'm like, great, I'm not in there.

JAFFE: For all the pressure and all the sacrifices, it's worth it said Ann Romney.

Ms. ANN ROMNEY (Wife of Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney): All of us share this extraordinary opportunity and I tell people when I speak everywhere I go, you see the heart of the American people and the heart is good. And that is so confirming for what we're doing and why we're doing it. And it has been - I wouldn't have trade this for - you give up a lot, but you get so much back.

(Soundbite of applause)

JAFFE: At the end of the hour-long chat, there were hugs all around. Then all five of the women faced the crowd, joined hands, and raised their arms met familiar triumphant salute as though they were all running on the same ticket.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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