First Ladies Pursue Women Voters Michelle Obama talks kitchen table issues with women in Pontiac, Mich. Wednesday. Both Cindy McCain and Mrs. Obama are trying to appeal to working women and stay-at-home moms.
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First Ladies Pursue Women Voters

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First Ladies Pursue Women Voters

First Ladies Pursue Women Voters

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This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, setting the rules for teen dating.

COHEN: First, though: Michelle Obama makes her first campaign visit to Michigan today. She's in the city of Pontiac for what's been billed as a round table with working women. Tickets to the event were gone in 20 minutes.

BRAND: Working women are a key demographic and both candidates' wives are reaching out to them. NPR's Celeste Headlee spoke with some women in and around Detroit about the candidates' wives, and Celeste heard some mixed reviews.

CELESTE HEADLEE: Cindy McCain used her appearance on the ABC talk show "The View" in April, to speak with Barbara Walters about her husband's down to earth side.

(Soundbite of TV show "The View")

Ms. BARBARA WALTERS: What do you call him?

Mrs. CINDY McCAIN (Wife of Senator John McCain): Johnny Boy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WALTERS: Johnny Boy!

Ms. WALTERS: Tell us some of the things you know about him that would surprise us.

Mrs. MCCAIN: Oh, I want to tell you everything. But he's a great cook. I know you guys heard that about him, and he's very funny. But more importantly, he's really into horticulture, plants and trees and things.

HEADLEE: And to some, Cindy McCain appears to be an ideal spouse.

Ms. ROSE CESSERA: She's a lighty.

HEADLEE: Rose Cessera(ph) says, Cindy McCain seems devoted to her husband, and would provide a strong foundation for his presidency.

Ms. CESSERA: She's there for her husband all the time. And when she talks about him she totally supports him. Now if they disagree, they do it in private. And you never see that.

HEADLEE: Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, also made an appearance on "The View" in June, but her tone was different.

(Soundbite of TV show "The View")

Mrs. MICHELLE OBAMA (Wife of Senator Barack Obama): When you put your heart out there there's a level of passion that you feel, and it's a risk that you take.

Ms. WALTERS: Of course.

Mrs. OBAMA: But one of the things I'm counting on is that people will see through it.


Mrs. OBAMA: You know that the more they get to know me, they get to know our family, that it'll become clear who I am and what I care about. I don't worry about it.

HEADLEE: And elementary school teacher Pretitia Brown(ph), says she feels a real connection to Michelle Obama, as a mother from working class roots.

Mrs. PRETITIA BROWN: Because I am a working mother and I do have children, so the fact that she's in the spotlight kind of makes her sort of a role model.

HEADLEE: Recent polls show more women support Obama than support McCain, but there are still four months to go before the election. That's plenty of time for people to change their minds. Especially in light of the fact that more than half of people polled say they just don't know much about Cindy McCain. And Tally Tsilamingra(ph) says the character of the candidate's spouse is important.

Ms. TALLY TSILAMINGRA: Women really do push behind their husbands, you know, and I really think that, behind closed doors, husbands listen a lot to their wives.

HEADLEE: Julie Chang (ph) agrees.

Ms. JULIE CHANG: It shows a lot about what the - another side of the person is, and I think it's very important that a person's partner is the person's partner, and that is the whole package that comes with it.

HEADLEE: Both spouses are making appearances around the country, not just on talk shows. They're hoping to bring female voters into their husbands' camp. But it's unlikely that either of them will be able to win over Jeannie Pracota(ph). The bus driver says she's annoyed by claims that either Cindy McCain or Michelle Obama are in touch with America's working women.

Ms. JEANNIE PRACOTA: Yes, because they have no clue what goes on with working women. Or housewives that have to work. A single mom that has to support her family, that might be out of a job. Do they really care? No. They're sitting pretty.

HEADLEE: And high school teacher Molly Marshall(ph) says she hasn't paid much attention to either Michelle Obama or Cindy McCain.

Ms. MOLLY MARSHALL: It's the presidential candidate who I would be concerned with, not so much the wife.

HEADLEE: But McCain supporter, Rose Cessera, says a wife can make a difference in how voters feel about a candidate.

Ms. CESSERA: Because they're the ones that are backing up the husbands. And face it, you know, it's like the old saying, behind every good man is a better woman.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HEADLEE: Many political pundits say a voter's decision in the polling booth probably doesn't hinge on their feelings about the nominee's spouse. But media attention on spouses has risen in the past few presidential campaigns. And if the election is close the candidates' wives may end up having a greater impact that anyone expects. Celeste Headlee, NPR News, Detroit.

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