Wives of Candidates Debate Their Roles

Five women whose husbands are competing for the White House joined together for the first time ever Tuesday to discuss their roles in the 2008 presidential campaign at a women's conference organized by former NBC journalist turned California first lady Maria Shriver.

Shriver, who put her own career aspirations on hold when her husband decided to run for governor, led what turned out to be a somewhat candid discussion between Elizabeth Edwards, Michelle Obama, Jeri Thompson, Cindy McCain and Ann Romney.

"What you are witnessing up here ... is history," Shriver told the audience of 14,000 mostly women. "Never before in the history of our country of presidential politics have the spouses ... gathered together to talk about their lives, to talk about the campaign trail, to talk about what it's like when someone in your family gets up and runs for president," Shriver said.


No-shows included Judith Giuliani, who has maintained a low-profile as of late, and former President Bill Clinton -- the potential first-ever White House first gentleman -- whose office said his schedule was too jam-packed with work for his international foundation to make it.

"We invited him to serve coffee but he was busy," joked Shriver.

The women spoke about struggling to define their roles in the 2008 campaign, and many of them revealed what it's like to be constantly evaluated as part of their husbands' campaigns and scrutinized in sometimes excruciating detail by the media.

Thompson: 'I'm Afraid of Embarrassing Fred'

When Shriver asked the women how active they are in the day-to-day strategy of their husband's campaign, Thompson, wife of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, demurred.


"I have a 1-year-old ... and I think most of y'all know how much time and effort that takes," Thompson said. "That's my main role. Other than that I do what I can to do what the campaign asks me. I'm not even qualified to do any of the other stuff."

Shriver pressed Thompson on her involvement in the campaign, noting the media has portrayed the former political lobbyist as everything from a trophy wife to the campaign mastermind.

"We know our husbands best so we ought to be able to say, 'I think this is best for him' ... but for overall strategy, no, I don't think I am," she said.

Thompson did say she put her foot down, demanding the campaign figure out a way to get a changing table on the campaign bus.

"And you know what? They did it," she said.

Likening the campaign to "walking down the street without clothes on," Thompson admitted she is scared.

"I'm afraid of embarrassing Fred. I would be terrified of hurting him. You don't want to let everybody down," she said.

Edwards: If It Ended Up on Drudge, I Didn't Say It Right!

Asked if she had any influence on her husband's policy positions, Edwards quipped, "I haven't so far!"

Elizabeth Edwards publicly split with her husband's policy on same sex marriage. He opposes it. She doesn't.

However, Edwards said the media is often too quick to draw some larger meaning from advice spouses give to their political husbands.

"The role of the strategist is completely overplayed," she said.

"Anytime you say anything ... it gets exploded into a bigger story," Edwards said. "You have to do what's in your heart and let the chips fall where they may."

However, Edwards admitted she feels terrible when she believes she is responsible for a bad headline in the media.

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