ILLUSTRATION BY ED WEXLER FOR USN&WR
What a difference a new century makes in presidential politics. Nearly 16 years ago, candidate Bill Clinton's offer of a two-for-one deal that included his wife, Hillary, fell with a thud. Now, at least among Democrats wowed by the front-running spouses, it's simply a given. Just don't say it.
"The trend reveals the shift in the American family from the male-dominated wage-earner/homemaker model to differing models that reflect two wage earners," says pollster John Zogby. "As long as a candidate doesn't say 'two for the price of one,' Americans deep down know they are getting just that, a whole family."
"This year," says Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, "the spouses make news. The spouses make noise and draw huge crowds." Certainly this is so for the Democratic trio of Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Elizabeth Edwards. Each has different roles, but all are providing a mix of policy talk with touching family stories. While voters sneered at Bill Clinton's twofer deal, they now seem to expect that spouses will handle more than interior decorating, though not the cabinet advisory role Rudy Giuliani suggested for his wife—and got whacked for. Still, says Brazile, "these spouses seem just as capable of winning public office as their spouses are."