Jeri Thompson, Michelle Obama, Ann Romney, Elizabeth Edwards, and Cindy McCain put aside the competitiveness of the campaign trail on Tuesday to talk about being political spouses.
(CNN) – Fifteen years after Hillary Clinton made her then-controversial comment about being a career woman and not staying home to bake cookies, the wives of five contenders for the White House gathered in California Tuesday to discuss their involvement in their husband’s presidential campaigns.
The wives’ discussion with moderator Maria Shriver, wife of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, began with Shriver pointing out that the gathering was historic. “Never before,” Shriver said, have political spouses, “gathered together to talk about their lives, to talk about the campaign trail, to talk about what it’s like when someone from your family gets up and runs for president.”
And talk they did. Shriver asked Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle, what she had feared or worried about in the early days of her husband contemplating a run for the White House. “You always worry about your life getting sucked out from under you,” Mrs. Obama responded. “I’m very practical, I have to know how is this going to play out.”
For her part, Jeri Thompson, wife of Fred Thompson, sought to dash persistent reports that she has a prominent, strategic role in her husband’s presidential campaign. “I have a one-year-old,” Thompson said. “And, I have a four-year-old. That’s my main role,” Thompson said. “Other than that, I do what I can to help when he asks me.”
Elizabeth Edwards was not as modest as Jeri Thompson in explaining her involvement in John Edwards’ campaign. “We do know our husbands best. Sometimes if we think he’s being misrepresented or misserved by something, it’s our jobs as wives to say, ‘you know, I don’t think that’s really the best thing,’” said Edwards.
Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain and a veteran of a past White House run, brought a different perspective to the discussion. “My boundaries changed from 2000 to this race,” she said. “I have now myself learned to say no” to some of the demands of a presidential campaign.
Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, spoke about the pressures of being a political wife. Gesturing towards Elizabeth Edwards, Romney rejected the assumption that statements or stances taken by the women always originate from their husband’s campaigns. “You have to be who you are. You have to have the flexibility and the luxury of expressing yourself for who we are as individuals,” said Romney.
The discussion was part of the 2007 Women’s Conference, a non-partisan annual event put on by California’s governor and first lady for the last twenty years. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday, Shriver said former President Bill Clinton did not participate in the spouses’ panel because of a scheduling conflict and that Judith Giuliani, wife of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, “declined to attend.”
- CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart