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Inside Politics

Candidates' wives play supporting roles

They balance families, careers and spouse's ambitions

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Clockwise from top left: Hadassah Lieberman, Judith Steinberg Dean, Gertrude Clark, Elizabeth Edwards
Clockwise from top left: Hadassah Lieberman, Judith Steinberg Dean, Gertrude Clark, Elizabeth Edwards

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(CNN) -- Consider this list: There is a doctor, a wealthy philanthropist, a longtime military wife and grandmother, a former backup singer for James Brown, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, and a full-time mom who juggles campaign duty.

That eclectic list describes the wives of the six Democratic White House hopefuls, women who offer unique perspectives on the men trying to win the party's nomination and challenge President Bush this fall. (A seventh contender, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, is divorced.)

Their roles in the campaigns have varied, but each of these women -- all of whom are mothers -- has made an impression on the campaign trail, whether by virtue of their own speeches and stumping, or their backgrounds.

"I think every candidate and candidate's spouse all have to be exactly who they are," Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, told CNN on Monday. "If you try to pretend you're something else, be something else, you're going to be uncomfortable with that, and voters are going to sense it."

To that end, Mrs. Edwards, who holds a law degree, splits her time between tending the couple's two youngest children, ages 3 and 5, and joining her husband on the campaign trail.

"It's not as bad as it sounds ... The younger children have been joining us on weekends," she said. The couple also has a daughter in college.

Other wives juggle their time in different ways.

Judith Steinberg Dean, a physician, had kept a low profile on the campaign, rarely joining her husband, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, for appearances. She has played a more public role this past week after his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses and what he now calls his "over-the-top" speech to supporters that night.

But Dr. Dean has made it clear that her medical practice remains a priority.

"If I can help [Howard], I will," she told ABC News last week. "And that doesn't mean he's going to disrupt my life, disrupt my patients, my son, but if he calls on a Saturday, and I'm not on call that weekend, I'll be out there Sunday."

Kathy Sharpton has kept a lower profile in the campaign of her husband, the Rev. Al Sharpton. But her stint as a backup singer for Brown has won her a measure of fame, even if she shies away from the spotlight.

Hadassah Lieberman has had a far more visible presence on the campaign trail. She moved with her husband, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, into an apartment in Manchester, New Hampshire, to underscore the campaign's commitment to that key battleground state.

"I'm proud of Joey," she told CNN. "I'm proud we're out there. And, you know, as a naturalized citizen, to be in the middle of this primary state in our democracy is very exciting."

Mrs. Lieberman, who first gained national attention when her husband was the running mate of Al Gore on the 2000 Democratic presidential ticket, was born in the Czech Republic after her parents fled Germany. The family later moved to Massachusetts.

Gertrude Clark, wife of retired Gen. Wesley Clark, said the transient nature of the military life has helped prepare her for the rigors of politics.

"You had to be very flexible," she said of her years as a military wife. A new grandmother, Mrs. Clark described the campaign experience as "fun," but said hearing criticism of her husband can be hard.

"It's not something that you enjoy," she told CNN.

Teresa Heinz Kerry has made a name for herself as chairwoman of the Howard Heinz Endowment and the Heinz Family Philanthropies, which have donated money to a variety of causes. The wife of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Mrs. Kerry was previously married to John Heinz, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania who died in a plane crash in 1991.

On the Republican side, first lady Laura Bush said she expects to play an increasingly active role in her husband's bid for re-election. She told CBS last week that she would be on the campaign trail to "apply a grain of salt" to Democratic criticism of her husband.

"I know this is our last campaign, whatever happens, and I think there will be a sense of nostalgia with that," she said.

CNN's Jennifer Coggiola contributed to this report.

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