Cindy McCain feels the heat after 'cheating' with recipe

If John McCain loses in November, his wife Cindy may catch some of the blame after apparently cheating in a high stakes presidential cookie bake-off.

Every four years, in the approach to the presidential election, kitchens across America are busy testing cookie recipes submitted by candidates' spouses for the Family Circle magazine competition.

Unfortunately the recipe Mrs McCain submitted is a near facsimile of a recipe from Hershey's, America's largest confectioner. The scandal, has not yet risen to "cookiegate" dimensions, but the omens are not good. It's the second time this year that Mrs McCain has been caught with her hand, figuratively, in the cookie jar. "McCain Family Recipes" posted on her husband's campaign website in April turned out to be near word-for-word copies of recipes on the Food Network site.

The stakes could hardly be higher. In the past four presidential elections the magazine's readers have successfully predicted America's next first lady. Hillary Clinton's chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies beat Barbara Bush's effort, and Laura Bush's cowboy cookies triumphed over Tipper Gore's ginger snaps. In 2004 Mrs Bush won again with oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies.

This year Mrs McCain's oatmeal-butterscotch cookie entry was accompanied by a note stating that it was a "family" recipe that "came from a good friend".

Michelle Obama submitted a recipe for shortbread cookies with orange and lemon zest, and a kick of Amaretto. But she didn't claim the recipe as her own, stating it came courtesy of Mama Kaye who is godmother to her daughters.

How the cookie vote has crumbled

* In 1992 Hillary Clinton remarked: "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies... but what I decided to do was to fulfil my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life." Critics in Arkansas, where her husband Bill was Governor, denounced her as an "uppity woman", but she quickly bounced back by revealing her family recipe for cookies.

* In 2004 voters told Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the Democratic candidate John Kerry, that her pumpkin spice cookie recipe was revolting. Mrs Heinz Kerry declared: "Somebody at my office gave that recipe out and, in fact, I think somebody made it on purpose to give a nasty recipe. I never made pumpkin cookies; I don't like pumpkin spice cookies."

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

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