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Poll finds Americans know Michelle Obama more, like her less than Cindy McCain

June 19, 2008 |  5:56 am

During the 2000 presidential campaign, NBC reporter Lisa Myers sat in the living room of the Texas governor's mansion and asked the leading Republican candidate's wife, "Will you be more like Hillary Clinton or like Barbara Bush?"

And Laura Bush replied, "I think I'll be more like Laura Bush."

Her answer was dead-on for the spouse of any presidRepublican presidential candidate John McCain and his wife Cindyential candidate.

They each craft their own campaign personality and find their own way through the noise, the bewildering crowds, the media landmines, the catty criticisms, the anguishing debates and unexpected audience questions, the policy innuendoes, the endless hotel rooms and late-night flights, the repetitive interviews and family strains, not least on the children back home.

They each seek to help their spouse's campaign, or at least not hurt it. But the national election ritual, now stretched over nearly two years, is a mind-numbing experience in the truest sense of the word.

Americans still don't know all that much about Cindy McCain or Michelle Obama. That will come out in dribs and drabs in coming weeks as the two parties' strategists' seek even the slightest advantage.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his wife Michelle

On "The View" Wednesday, viewers learned that Michelle, a strong public speaker though a presidential campaign rookie, is a relentless saleswoman with her eye on every opportunity to push her husband's candidacy.

A magazine cover story this weekend will reveal she has shopped at Target, as our colleague Elizabeth Snead reports over on the Dish Rag.

Michelle will probably relax some over time; most Americans seem to prefer their campaigning spouses on the softer-sell side, witness the resistance engendered by Hillary Clinton in the 1990s and to Bill Clinton's aggressive spousal touting this year, while...

...Laura Bush retains a reservoir of good will despite her husband's overwhelming unpopularity. She drew appreciation even from Michelle on Wednesday.

Unnoticed by many, Laura Bush was a veteran in 2000 and 2004 with campaigning experience in every presidential election since 1980 (except 1996). Cindy McCain had at least abbreviated primary practice in 2000 and Michelle Obama has been on the trail herself a lot this year.

From what they know so far, Americans seem to like Cindy McCain more, despite or perhaps because they know more about Michelle Obama, especially the proud to be an American remark. (Some political strategists might then suggest keeping Cindy under wraps.)

A new Pew Research poll of about 1,000 finds that 78% of respondents knew something about Obama's wife and 26% said it was negative, while only 54% knew something about McCain's wife and a miniscule 7% said it was negative.

Not surprisingly, a majority of Republicans (54%) and Democrats (65%) feel positively about their candidate's spouse. The full story is here along with video reports on each woman.

Of course, polls are only snapshots of one moment (or three days) in time. Conventional wisdom has held that few voters cast ballots for president based on the candidate's spouse, although that may need re-examination after the recent Democratic primary season.

--Andrew Malcolm

Photo credits: The campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain