All in the Family: Are Candidates' Spouses Fair Game?

Like it or not, Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama play roles in campaign.

ByABC News
May 19, 2008, 3:39 PM

May 19, 2008— -- In a political season that's seen candidates' spouses play unprecedented roles, Sen. Barack Obama called for a new standard Monday that seeks to redraw the battle lines of the general election: Keep the spouses out of it.

"If they think that they're going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful because that I find unacceptable," Obama said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "For them to try to distort or to play snippets of her remarks in ways that are unflattering to her, I think is just low class."

"These folks should lay off my wife. All right? Just in case they're watching," he said with a wry smile.

But Obama's plea for a spousal cease-fire appears unlikely to result in any major changes in the tenor of the campaign.

The Democratic National Committee has aggressively targeted Cindy McCain over her decision not to release her tax returns, and DNC officials said Monday that they would continue to do so, saying the issue raises questions of "transparency and credibility."

Former President Bill Clinton has been a tireless campaigner on behalf of his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and a series of comments he's made about her campaign against Obama became immediate campaign fodder.

And -- in what prompted Obama's warning -- Republican groups and state party organizations have already begun to use some of Michelle Obama's comments in advertisements and fundraising appeals as they seek to make a broad case against her husband's candidacy.

Even if candidates could agree not to mention one another's spouses, outside groups cannot be controlled. And the growing role played by political spouses in general makes requests like Obama's impossible to fulfill.

"It's not possible to put it off-limits," said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. "If Michelle Obama is making political statements, she's fair game, and she has been doing that. Overall, she's been a plus, but she's vulnerable when she says things she shouldn't, just like everybody else."