America's two prospective first ladies could scarcely be more different. Here we take a brief look at the lives of Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain and consider what qualities each would bring to the White House.
Background: After growing up a wealthy Arizona heiress, McCain, then Hensley, eschewed a role in her father's beer distributing business to embark on a career teaching children with learning difficulties. She later founded the American Voluntary Medical Team, leading 55 emergency assistance missions to countries such as Iraq, Nicaragua and Vietnam. During a visit to Mother Theresa's orphanage in Bangladesh in 1991, McCain arranged to bring a child to the United States for medical treatment, later adopting the girl. Upon her father's death in 2000, she became chair of the now $300 million a year Hensley & Co, the third largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch beer in the United States. She continues to be active in the charity world, serving on the boards of organisations such as CARE and the HALO Trust.
The marriage: The former cheerleader and rodeo queen met John McCain, married and 18 years her senior, at a military reception in Hawaii in 1979. The pair quickly embarked on an affair but Cindy was not to be cast as the "other woman" for long, as in February 1980 McCain divorced his first wife, clearing the way for their marriage in May of that year. She suffered several miscarriages before giving birth to their first child, Meghan (now an active blogger on her father's campaign) in 1984. She went on to have two other children, Jack and Jimmy, before adopting Bridget. A stay-at-home mum for several years, Cindy also helped further her husband's political career, introducing him to family contacts and campaigning with him door-to-door during his successful first bid for Congress in 1982.
First lady?: Cindy McCain has adopted a supporting, rather than actively campaigning role, in her husband's presidential bid. Attractive and glamorous, she nevertheless projects a homely, maternal persona - the perfect combination of political wife and soccer mom. Would be unlikely to get openly involved with policy-making, instead using her position to campaign on charitable issues. But make no mistake - she has no shortage of ambition where her husband's career is concerned and would certainly be his closest confidante.
On the campaign trail: Her past addiction to opioid painkillers - which ultimately led her to steal drugs from her own medical charity - has attracted unwelcome media attention. So has her involvement in the Keating Five scandal, which saw her husband accused of pressuring investigators to drop a fraud probe into a long-time friend and business associate of the couple - a charge of which he was later largely exonerated. She also drew criticism after it emerged that recipes she had submitted to the McCain campaign official website had in fact been ripped off the Food Network - an affair that became known as Pasta-gate.
While Cindy has largely kept quiet on the campaign trail, she has at times aimed blows at Michelle Obama, most notably after her rival's wife commented that she was proud of her country "for the first time in my adult life." She also recently posed for Vogue in a pair of size zero jeans - not bad for a 54 year old.
Background: A distinguished career woman in her own right, Michelle Obama grew up in a blue collar family on Chicago's South Side before attending Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She was then joined the law firm Sidley Austin as an associate specialising in marketing and intellectual property, before taking up a variety of positions in the public sector and non-profit organisations, first in the Chicago Mayor's office and most recently at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where she still serves as Vice-President for Community and External Affairs. She has recently cut back her professional responsibilities in order to participate in her husband's campaign and to devote more time to motherhood.
The marriage: The couple married in 1992 after meeting at Sidley Austin; she had been assigned to mentor Barack Obama when he was a summer associate at the firm. They later had two daughters, Malia and Sasha, with whom they live in Chicago. The pair appear extremely close and rely on each other for professional advice - she reportedly once asked him to meet with a prospective boss before deciding whether or not to accept a job offer. Her public comment that Barack is "snorey and stinky" when he wakes up at the morning were seen by some as demeaning but greeted by others as endearing. She was reportedly reluctant about the prospect of her husband running for the White House, and granted her support only in exchange for a promise that he would quit smoking.
First lady?: An Eleanor Roosevelt. A fiery public speaker, Michelle Obama has become a force in her own right on the campaign trail, and would likely take an active role in her husband's White House, using it as a platform to advance causes about which she is passionate. She would also restore a little Kennedyesque glamour to Pennsylvania Avenue, having been widely praised for her understated elegance on the campaign trail. In July 2007, she was listed among "10 of the world's best-dressed people" by Vanity Fair.
On the campaign trail: Notoriously outspoken, Michelle Obama has drawn both criticism and admiration for her conduct during the primary campaign. Her declaration that she was proud of her country "for the first time in my adult life" drew charges of anti-Americanism, while she displayed a less gracious attitude than her husband towards his then rival Hillary Clinton. Insiders have suggested that efforts will be made during the presidential campaign to head off such controversies in future, perhaps by restricting press access to her.
An intelligent and forthright woman, however, she has also provided a big draw to many voters, energising rallies and making confident appearances with Oprah Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy and Stevie Wonder, among others. She is said to be her husband's closest adviser, though she has repeatedly made clear that this is not in any official sense.
Special Thanks to the Times Online