McCain's wife can step away from the spotlight

Cindy McCain can breathe a sigh of relief. Her husband's choice of a woman as his vice presidential mate means his real-life mate can hang in the shadows a bit.

The 54-year-old businesswoman is expected to speak tonight to the Republican National Convention, as Michelle Obama did last week at the Democratic convention. Experts say the stakes are very different.

Unlike her Democratic counterpart, Cindy McCain has little to prove. Her patriotism hasn't been questioned.

Before Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin became John McCain's running mate, “Cindy was going to have to take on the world of womanhood. She was going to have to take on Michelle and Hillary,” said Mike Bernacchi, professor of marketing at the University of Detroit Mercy. “Whatever your politics, that was a formidable challenge.”

Now that Palin is on the front lines, Cindy McCain can be herself and more like first lady Laura Bush, who has managed to stay above the fray, Bernacchi said.

“There is so much scrutiny of Sarah Palin that Cindy McCain is going to take a back seat,” said Myra Gutin, a communications professor at Rider University in New Jersey who specializes in first ladies.

McCain's wife is a tireless campaigner, usually at her husband's side. But she doesn't relish the limelight.

“She has not been a political creature up until now,” said Paul Alexander, author of the McCain biography “Man of the People.” He added, “She has not enjoyed being in the political spotlight.”

McCain's wife of 28 years has made her mark in global charity work and as chairwoman of the family beer distributorship that she inherited from her late father. She is on the boards of Operation Smile, which helps kids with cleft palates, and the Halo Trust, which removes land mines.

Her charities and her four children, not politics, “are the passions that control her life,” Alexander said.

What Cindy McCain needs to do at the convention is to tell her own story and talk about her husband in ways only she can, Gutin said. “Many people don't really know who she is,” Gutin said.