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Candidate Spouses Serve as Partners on Campaign Trail

Presidential candidate spouses such as Elizabeth Edwards and Ann Romney have been fixtures on the campaign trail, providing support and reaching out to voters. A political science professor and a journalist discuss the changing role of spouses.

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    There's a new breed of candidate spouse on the campaign trail. On the Democratic side, there's Elizabeth Edwards demanding husband John's campaign go on despite being diagnosed with incurable cancer, spearheading changes in campaign tactics and staff, playing attack dog, telling Salon magazine last month that rival Hillary Clinton is, quote, "just not as vocal a women's advocate as I want to see; John is," and chastising reporters for making a big deal out of his $400 haircut.

    ELIZABETH EDWARDS, Wife of John Edwards: You know, we'd much rather have you talk about not how they look and what they're wearing or how attractive they are, but what it is they have to say.


    There's Michelle Obama, who just left her high-powered job as a hospital administrator chiding reporters to "stop that nonsense" of asking if her husband is black enough to appeal to African-American voters. "We are messing with the heads of our children by raising the question," she said.

    And then there's former President Bill Clinton, by all accounts the most powerful fundraiser and strategist in his wife, Hillary's, circle.

    The Republican spouses are less outspoken, but they, too, have come in for unusual scrutiny for so early in the game. Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, who suffers from multiple sclerosis has been challenged for her evolving position on abortion. She was asked recently why she contributed to Planned Parenthood in 1993.

    ANN ROMNEY, Wife of Mitt Romney: I don't even remember writing the check. I know today I wouldn't write the check.


    Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's wife, Judith — a third marriage for each after a secret affair — has prompted pieces about her lavish spending and meddling with his staff. Giuliani also raised eyebrows in March when he said she'd be welcome at cabinet meetings.

    Cindy McCain is more outspoken than she was in her husband's 2000 campaign, bluntly criticizing the Bush administration in June for mishandling the Iraq war. "I'm angry at them," she said.

    And though former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson isn't even officially in the race, his much younger wife, a former Republican staffer, is reported to have instigated a shakeup in his staff. And she's been mocked for her dress on talk shows and the Internet, prompting a leading newspaper to ask, "Is America Ready for a Trophy Wife?"

    For a look at how these women, and one man, are reshaping the role of the political spouse, we turn now to Kathleen Dolan, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She's the author of "Voting for Women: How the Public Evaluates Women Candidates." And Kati Marton, a journalist and author of "Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages that Shaped Our History."

    Welcome to you both.

    So, Kati Marton, just how different does this crop of candidate spouses look to you?

    KATI MARTON, Journalist and Author: Well, it's a tremendously interesting and quite different field. And we don't usually get to know the candidates' spouses this early in the game, but the country seems very much in the mood to get on with — to basically turn the page on the current period and get to know these candidates and is giving the candidates' spouses the kind of scope to express themselves and to weigh in, which I think, Margaret, really reflects where women in the country are, which is pretty much everywhere and doing everything.