With his campaign team treading water amid lukewarm poll ratings and the resignation of several key aides, John McCain has fallen back on a trusted ally: his wife. Cindy McCain, the Republican presidential candidate's wife of 28 years, has shared a series of intimate and not-so-intimate details about the would-be first family's private life in an interview with US Vogue.
The glossy magazine, which visited Mrs McCain, 53, at one of her family's two beachside holiday homes in California, chronicles day-to-day details of her marital life, fashion and beauty regimes, health problems and her struggles with an addiction to painkillers.
In addition to revealing that Mrs McCain swears by "size-zero Lucky Brand jeans" and "doesn't have time for pedicures," it also explains how she cured her "empty nest" syndrome when her four children left home by purchasing two Yorkshire terriers, Lucy and Desi. "Meghan [the couple's eldest daughter] had just graduated from Columbia [University], and I was sad because my nest was emptying and I saw them in a window," said Mrs McCain. They joined two more dogs, a cat and several parakeets in a menagerie that has also included guinea pigs, snakes and "an iguana that Jack [their eldest son] used to walk around the house on a leash."
The glowing profile marks an effort to emphasise the human face of Mr McCain, whose inner circle has been rocked by the resignations of five aides, including his key fundraiser Tom Loeffler, who quit over revelations that he had previously lobbied on behalf of the Saudi government. It is hoped that Mrs McCain, a slender, well-preserved blonde, will be able to compete with her probable opposite number, Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, in the glamour stakes. She may also emphasise a break from the somewhat dowdy era of George Bush, who is being kept at arm's length by Republican campaigners.
The strategy is not without risk, though. Mrs McCain, heir to the beer distribution company Hensley, has caused controversy for channelling personal funds into campaign coffers. Last week, she bowed to pressure to release her 2006 tax return, which revealed an income of $6m (£3m).
In the past, she has also generated political scandal. In 1989, she and Mr McCain, 71, were wrongly accused of using their influence to protect a financier from a federal inquiry. She was also accused, again falsely, of stealing drugs from a medical charity she founded, to feed her addiction to the prescription painkillers Percocet and Vicodin.
Although the interview chronicles these and other problems, including the stroke she suffered in 2004, it does not investigate the potentially embarrassing circumstances of her marriage to the Vietnam veteran just months after he divorced his first wife, Carol.