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Would-Be First Ladies Find Common Ground

The old joke on Capitol Hill is that in the House, members of your opposite party are the opposition, but the real enemy is the Senate. At a forum that five would-be first ladies spoke at in Long Beach, California, it seemed a similar logic was in play. Although they are at some level competing for same job, Elizabeth Edwards, Cindy McCain, Michelle Obama and Ann Romney, and Jeri Thompson spoke warmly of one another and even joined hands to pose for pictures at the end. And the stories they told had a common thread: how much they disliked their husbands' staffs.

Thompson, who looked tentative and nervous throughout the hour-long session moderated by Maria Shriver, won little sympathy from the more than 14,000 attending the annual Women's Conference in California, except when she lamented that her husband's campaign staff at first balked at setting up a place for her to change her infant's diapers on the campaign bus.

Edwards blamed her reputation as highly involved as in her husband's political life on unnamed staffers who would have her husband appear in advertisements in a "dark room" and didn't understand him. (In an interview earlier that day, she named the staffer she was referring to, former Edwards adviser and current Obama adviser David Axelrod.) The ever-cheery Ann Romney, who raved about her admiration for her five sons, the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire and the American people, even complained of her husband's staff "nobody listens to me."

While all played down their roles in their husbands' campaigns, both Edwards and Thompson emphasized their know the candidates better than anyone and unlike advisers, their only agenda is advancing their husbands' cause.

"John trusts me because he knows I have no other agenda," Edwards said earlier in the day in an interview "A lot of the myth about me comes from the fact that I was unhappy with the advertising campaign suggested by David Axelrod in 2004. It was very dark and gloom and negative, not a true reflection of who John was as human being. I think David is a good man, I think he never got John in a sense. . .At one point, we're doing an ad at dark at night, this is so wrong about who he is and I communicated that."

Staff bashing wasn't the only thing the women had in common. They all, at times reluctantly, acknowledged they play a role in voters see their husbands. McCain said people come up to her and say "I like the way you act together," referring to the body language between McCain and her husband.

The loudest applause from the audience came when Romney and Obama both discussed the challenges of balancing their time, something Obama in particular often talks about on the stump.

"The woman always ends up doing more," Romney said, referring to the basics of maintatining the home and taking care of children. "There's just so much that falls on women's shoulders...All of these things take an enormous toll on us. I've been diagnosed with MS [multiple sclerosis] . . I truly believe because we are juggling so many balls and keeping it together, we forget to take care of ourselves."

--Perry Bacon Jr.

By Washington Post editors  |  October 24, 2007; 1:10 PM ET
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