- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cindy Hensley met future husband John McCain at a military reception in Hawaii in 1979. She was 24, he was 17 years her senior, and both lied about their ages. He monopolized her time all night and later invited her out for a drink. “By the evening’s end, I was in love,” the Arizona senator has said.

On the rebound from a breakup, Bill Clinton says he stalked Hillary Rodham around the Yale campus. After two weeks, when she caught him taking yet another lingering glance inside the library, she had had enough and made a beeline across the room with characteristic aplomb.

“ ’Look, you have been staring at me for weeks — and I’ve been staring back. So at least we ought to know each other’s name,” she said by way of introduction.

Added Mr. Clinton of that fateful first connection: “I thought I would fall in love with her, and I didn’t want to fall in love. Turned out to be right.” Whatever the reason — love, proximity or happenstance — Valentine’s Day is coming to the political world, shining a spotlight on vastly different couples who remain under the microscope as the nation judges not only the candidates’ fitness to be president but also their private relationships.

Barack and Michelle Obama plan to have a Valentine’s Day dinner together in Chicago, the campaign said, declining to provide details about where and when. The Clintons will be somewhere in Wisconsin, continuing to campaign, but no word on any Valentine’s Day celebration. For everyone, the luxury of actual couples’ time may prove elusive.

“I don’t think any couple running for president realistically thinks about keeping romance alive,” says Diane Salvatore, editor in chief of Ladies’ Home Journal magazine. “They simply want to stay alive themselves, as campaigns grow longer and exponentially more demanding.”

True, these presidential couples, all veterans of the political world, understand full well the time demands, with each likely tired of the stress and travel. Each has supported each other in different ways, either actively taking on the issues like Mrs. Obama in her fiery stump speeches, or like Janet Huckabee, steadfastly appearing by her high school sweetheart’s side in a display of family solidarity.

In September, Ms. Salvatore’s magazine surveyed women about political candidates and their marriages. One-third said their opinion of a candidate’s marriage would influence their vote.

“So, the majority is still focused on the candidate and the issues,” she said.

Linda Kramer, a 20-year veteran of People magazine who served as deputy Washington bureau chief for several years, says the Obamas, both Ivy League-educated lawyers with big professional careers, have a certain modern appeal.

“I think they are very much a couple of their generation,” said Mrs. Kramer, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University who has covered the Clintons, the Bushes and the Kerrys on the campaign trail.

“The way she’s talked about him in some interviews — she talked about his snoring — it’s so real. You do get that sense of them as a team, and she doesn’t hold back when she talks to him. She’s not just a validator, a reinforcer. It’s not ‘oh yes, whatever you want dear,’ ” she said.

No union, however, has been more analyzed as that of the Clintons. While their marriage — in Little Rock, the White House, the Monica Lewinsky affair and the impeachment — has been much discussed, observers note that for better or worse, they remain in it to win it, with Mr. Clinton fervently campaigning and defending his wife’s political ambitions.

“I’ve always believed there is a love and a passion between them,” says Mrs. Kramer, who allows that the fascination about them and the other contenders will no doubt continue as the election year continues.

“People do care and part of it is relatability,” she says. “On one level, you like to look at a first family or a potential first family and think of ways that kind of relate to you. If you’re someone who is also married and who has children, I think as women we like to peek inside another woman’s kitchen to pull back the curtains. You put that on the level of presidents, and people are curious.”

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