She was working as chief of staff for the Republican National Committee, and her boss, Chairman Lee Atwater, wanted Matalin to learn more about Democratic leaders, including Carville.
“I wanted to meet him somewhere for lunch,” she said. “He said, ‘Sugar, come over to my apartment.’ I said, 'I don’t think so. How about your office?’ He said, ‘My office is my apartment.’”
Soon after that first meeting, the two started dating, and in 1992 Matalin and Carville worked on the campaigns of presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, respectively. In Buckhead Tuesday night, the couple shared stories about their marriage while promoting their new book, “Love and War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home” at the Atlanta History Center’s sold-out kickoff to its winter/spring lecture series.
During the introduction, center President and CEO Sheffield Hale said the lecture was its largest ever.
“It’s an amazing thing to think and reflect on more than 20 years together and how we've lived those years. … We were in the ring for some of the defining moments in history,” Carville said.
Today they live in New Orleans and work as political consultants but have other jobs. Carville’s include teaching political science at Tulane University, and Matalin’s include co-hosting the weekly nationally syndicated “Both Sides Now” radio program with Arianna Huffington.
Matalin said when they first met, she had a boyfriend of seven years but that all changed.
“It was love at first sight, I will tell you,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “On that day I was all dressed up. He said, ‘What’s with the hair? What’s with that outfit?’ Was it the vodka?”
Said Carville, “I was shoving it to her.”
The couple talked about a variety of topics – from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to their favorite politicians from opposite parties to how their political views shaped their marriage.
The Iraq war is one major disagreement they had.
“We were in [the Middle East] monitoring the Iraq elections for the codifying of female rights in their constitution,” Matalin said. ‘It started out OK but I said, ‘It takes two people to fight and I’m not going to talk about this, and we never have again.”
Said Carville, “But if you’re going to fight, fight about a war and not something silly.”
As for their favorite public officials, one is a Georgian.
“I have two favorite politicians and they’re both clients of James’. They are [former] Gov. [Bob] Casey [Jr.] of Pennsylvania and [former Georgia Gov.] Zell Miller,” Matalin said of the Democrats. “Zell Miller officiated at our wedding and was so good, he got a standing ovation. Everyone there thought he was the show, even Republicans.
“I said after writing the first book with James 20 years ago [‘All’s Fair: Love, War and Running for President], I said I would not do it again. It was like being pregnant with an epidural. I insisted he have an epidural. … He said, ‘Sugar, we’re going to become a sliver on the river. I’m from south Chicago. Anyone from south Chicago who hears ‘Sugar,’ [with] anything that follows, she’s going to follow.”
Matalin also said she is a fan of the Clintons.
“I always had a crush on President Clinton,” she said. “He’s a vegan but sometimes he slips in a shrimp. Don’t put that in the paper.”
During the question-and-answer session, one audience member asked about voters’ opinions and their effect on government.
“If you saw the [recent] Gallup poll, less people are identifying with Republicans and Democrats,” Matalin said. “It’s because some people are fed up with Republicans. I’m a Republican and I’m mad at Republicans. …
“Without a participating, informed … citizenry, we won’t survive.”
Carville added, “The English vote for Parliament every five years. We vote for everything. … We have elections here and there. It is our system and it works very well for us. … There are a lot of ways to look at it. This year, [voters] have dropped off. One thing is we’re called to vote a lot more often.”
Earlier Matalin talked about key elections to come.
"The midterms are significant,” she said. “The voters [looking at] the candidates for 2016 are going to pay attention to 2014. It will be a whole different set of issues.”
Both talked about New Orleans’ comeback since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when, Carville said, the “fragility of our culture was in the balance.” Carville, who was born at Fort Benning, near Columbus, was raised in Southeast Louisiana.
Afterward, the couple were asked what the key to their happy marriage was.
“He makes me laugh,” Matalin said. “I’ve never had one day of my life in 22 to 23 years with him when I’ve been bored. I have been ticked with him but I’ve never been bored.”
Carville added, “You’ve got to stay in love in the end.”