The wives of the men debating tonight (short the better halves of Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton) gathered for lunch at High Cotton today. There was some opportunity for them to talk with each other, but it was largely a lunch to meet local Democrats.

Elizabeth Edwards says not much has changed since her husband last ran for president in 2004.

“We’re still talking about the same things, which aggravates the business out of me,” she says. “Still talking about how we need health care, still talking about how college is too expensive, still talking about the environment and nothings been done. Honestly, it’s a lot of the same material I had last time.”

What is different is the attention she’s getting from the media and voters.

“It could be that John ran for vice president., it could be the cancer, it could be that people just love my book. I like to think it’s my book,” she says.

The attention may also have something to do with Elizabeth’s disagreements with some of her husband’s positions, including her support for gay marriage.

“People can see we’re real human beings with real opinions,” she says. “We’re not just mirrors of our husbands. It doesn’t mean we change his mind, but it means that we make him think about the issue.”

Monday’s lunch was the first time Whitney Gravel made a public statement in the campaign. She wasn’t married to former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel during his previous campaigns. She said that the campaign has been full of surprised, including the public reaction to the YouTube videos of her husband looking intently in to the camera before chucking a rock into a lake.

“Who would have thought that would make such a splace, no pun intended,” she says. “You never know what the reaction is going to be. You’re never in control.”

She was excited to talk about Gravel’s National Initiative, which would open up some policy decisions to popular vote. Mrs. Gravel said she and her husband went to dinner Sunday night and stumbled upon a private dinner celebrating the smoking ban beginning today. The group at first didn’t recognize Gravel, but asked the couple to go ahead and join them.

“It was a delightful demonstration of Charleston’s hospitality,” she says.

Love Best of Charleston?

Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.