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Democratic Presidential Candidates Visit Charleston

July 31, 2007

Leave it to South Carolina to host the Democratic candidates’ spouses in a way that other cities haven’t. For the first time, they were entertained together. They were in high cotton at High Cotton on East Bay Street in Charleston, eating an unbelievably good lunch.

Grace was the order of the day. It happens to be Chris and Jackie Clegg Dodd’s daughter’s name, but it was also the way these women operated. The six spouses (who I will call wives from now on, since Bill Clinton wasn’t able to attend, nor was Mrs. Obama) who were present at the lunch spoke only good things about each other and Charleston.

Jackie Clegg Dodd, a wisp of a lady, said “Charleston is a dangerous place to visit, as I know from times past visiting Peatsy and Fritz Hollings. You can put on 25 pounds in a few days if you don’t watch out, the food is so good.” She was nearly as funny a lunch companion as she claims her husband is. She wouldn’t choose who was funnier, Chris Dodd or Fritz Hollings, saying Fritz is the raconteur of the two, but that her husband has kept her laughing for the twenty years they have been together. Her pale pink suit remained immaculate through a She-crab soup laden with crab and a touch of cream and sherry, succulent grouper and a lemon dessert that she, like most of the wives, ignored.

In all unfairness, the dessert arrived as the wives were introduced to speak in alphabetical order by Don Fowler, husband of South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Carol Fowler. (They didn’t have a chance to touch it, even if they were willing to spend the calories.)

English teacher Jill Biden was wittier – and prettier – than my English teachers ever were. She quoted Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire: I have to depend on the kindness of strangers” to elect my Joe. Her beautiful hands were a pale contrast to her black eyelet dress as she spoke passionately of her husband’s battle against adversity many times in his life. Those who tease about him speaking too much at times have probably forgotten he stuttered as a child and overcame it.

Elizabeth Edwards, quoted her daughter about seeing her in a smashing black outfit as well as black tights, “Are you becoming a Goth?” Her three piece black outfit was smashing. She loves her food (and perhaps was most politically astute) enough to congratulate the chef and staff of High Cotton before saying anything about her husband. After speaking about his crusade on poverty, she spoke about the group of wives gathered there today – “They are,” she said, “A splendid group of women. It is a pleasure to be here with them all, and if my husband can’t win, I hope one of the other Democratic candidates will.”

Whitney Stewart Gravel, in pale blue that emphasized her eyes and stunning gray hair, said it was the first time she had ever spoken at a campaign event. If that was true, she is a natural speaker, holding us rapt as she spoke of her husband’s ardor about public health.

Elizabeth Kucinich, with vibrant long red hair and four inch high heels, was adorned only with a small pin saying “Peace.” She decided on her second date with Dennis she was going to marry him, and they were married three months later. A very moving speaker, she said when she was growing up in London, England. “America was the hope of the world..” She concluded her speech with, “Where is America?” Privately, she said she was eagerly awaiting her American citizenship.

Barbara Richardson, whose first trip to Charleston was on a vacation thirty years ago, gave some of the best laugh lines, expressing gratitude for all the wives being together at the luncheon. “Usually, when the candidates’ wives enter the room, we are separated as if we will be in a cat fight.” She spoke about what it means to all of the women be a spouse of a candidate. “We have traveled together, campaigned together, laughed and cried together, private women in public lives. People come up to us and say, ‘Your husband is SO wonderful.’ When ‘Mr. Wonderful’ is out there campaigning, WE are STILL schlepping at home.” “The women in this room,” she said, will unite behind whoever is the candidate to bring back the White House, no matter who wins.” Later, she told me, “All these women come from diverse backgrounds, juggling their private lives. All bring something valuable to the table.”

It seemed to me it was a lot of grace.

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