They are the better halves, the innocents, the non-combatants involuntarily thrust into the arena of political combat -- and their styles, once they find themselves there, can be as different as the policy prescriptions offered by their spouses.
All of the members of this year’s crop of “political wives” are veterans of politics in one form or fashion: Carol Paul has seen her husband Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, win twelve terms in the House, starting back in 1976, and endured two previous campaigns for the presidency.
Karen Santorum has been at her husband Rick’s side throughout his campaigns for the House, where he served two terms, and the Senate, where he also served two terms.
Ann Romney has ridden shotgun for her husband’s runs for the Senate and governorship in Massachusetts, and is now making her second lap around the presidential campaign trail.
In an interview with Fox News, Mrs. Romney said this time around feels a bit different than her experience in the GOP primary of 2008.
“Last time, I was speaking, I was doing fundraising, I was out, I was doing my own events too. It's just nobody noticed,” she said. “It just seems to get a little more attention this time. I'm more front-and-center this time around.”
The pivotal difference for the Romneys between four years ago and today, of course, is that Mitt Romney is the front-runner this time around.
Indeed, as they celebrated the former governor’s big win in Tuesday night’s Illinois primary, Ann was able to tell the boisterous crowd in Schaumburg: “You know, tomorrow is our anniversary, and we will have been married forty-three years. So happy anniversary, sweetheart!”
“Any front-runner, I think, obviously gets the lion's share of the attention, as well as the political spouse,” said Monica Crowley, a conservative Fox News analyst. “Ann Romney has been front-and-center. She's held a lot of town halls, a lot of campaign rallies, on her own, separate from her husband. And she is dynamite out on the campaign trail.”
“When we decided to run, we knew there would be tough stories from the media,” Callista Gingrich said during her introduction of her husband at the annual CPAC convention, held in Washington on February 11. The French horn player and choir singer has been with her husband since 1993, but their start has proved enduringly controversial, for their romance began as an adulterous affair during the former speaker’s second marriage.
Despite that, Callista has taken a surprisingly active and visible role in her husband’s campaign. She holds her own events -- including reading to elementary school students in Gilbert, Arizona one month ago -- and she has regularly appeared alongside her husband, including in a Christmas video the two recorded last year.
Mrs. Paul is perhaps the most conventional political spouse: often seen and almost never heard. Although a Springfield, Virginia crowd at one of her husband’s rallies sang “Happy Birthday” to her last month, Carol Paul mostly shuns the spotlight.
By contrast, Karen Santorum, wife of Rick and home-schooler of their seven children, steers a kind of middle course. She has done only a few interviews and occasionally addresses voters directly.
Speaking in Urbandale, Iowa on January 3, the day her husband triumphed in that state’s caucuses, she described the former senator’s economic worldview.
“As a child and a boy and a teenager, and young man, he saw a lot of those [manufacturing] jobs leave and they went overseas,” she said. “And so Rick has a real passion to remove a lot of the federal regulations and taxes, and lift the burdens on companies, so that we can restore a lot of the jobs back here in our country, and have things made here again.”
“Some political spouses are much more comfortable on the campaign trail than others, and they take to it a lot more naturally,” said Crowley, who in the early 1990s served as an aide to former President Nixon, and also met Pat Nixon many times.
Crowley spoke during the same week that Michelle Obama appeared on “Late Night” with David Letterman, utterly at ease with the comedy format and heartily welcomed by the studio audience. “Michelle Obama is a major asset for the president,” Crowley said.