Wives of Candidates Debate Their Roles

Wives of five 2008 candidates discuss their roles at forum in California.

ByABC News
October 23, 2007, 10:46 AM

Oct. 23, 2007 — -- 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.

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.