A Political Spouse Defies Norm ; Teresa Heinz Kerry's Unabashed Approach Is a Plus for Some Voters, a Concern for Others

Article excerpt

When Teresa Heinz Kerry speaks, there's often a glint of mirth in her eyes, as if she were aware that she doesn't fit the classic template for American political wives.

Oh, she understands the game. But in this era of slick political image-making and carefully planned spin, she just rolls her eyes and refuses to play. Her easy self-confidence and exotic looks - not to mention her Portuguese lilt - make Ms. Heinz Kerry seem more a character from a European novel than a future first lady. And her startlingly straight answers to questions most would evade are enough to make any campaign handler squirm.

Botox injections? Of course. Actually, she says she may need another soon. A pre-nup with John Kerry to protect her $500 million- plus fortune? Absolutely, a must. Her husband's running mate? "I have to say that John Edwards is very beautiful," she says.

So Tuesday night, when Heinz Kerry takes the podium at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, many people across the nation will catch their first glimpse of one of the most unusual would-be first ladies in the nation's history. Born in Africa, fluent in five languages, her unruly hair a copper color more common with women half her age, she strikes a figure rarely seen in US politics. "She is absolutely her own woman," said Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill at a Monitor breakfast with reporters.

That's both good news and bad news for political staffers. Asked if the campaign is trying to control what their candidate's wife says, Ms. Cahill offered an indirect answer. "There are those things you can do, and those you can't," she said.

Today some see Heinz Kerry's sometimes blunt candor as a refreshing departure from scripted talking points. Others worry that during a time of such rancorous political divisions, such independence could only inflame the raging culture wars.

"She is definitely a change," says Myra Gutin, a professor at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., and author of "The President's Partner: The First Lady in the 20th Century." "She would be only the second foreign-born first lady we'd have. She's been very candid - some might say unguarded.... Even in her most flip moments, Hillary Clinton was never like this."

Take her name. She freely admits that her legal name is, and will remain, Teresa Heinz. The addition of "Kerry," she says, was simply a nod to the needs of the campaign. "Now, politically, it's going to be Teresa Heinz Kerry," she once told a woman's magazine. "But I don't give a [expletive], you know? There are other things to worry about."

She is far from a demure spouse. Instead of gazing lovingly at her husband while he's speaking, she can fidget and even frown. In one of their first interviews, before Senator Kerry had announced his presidential bid, she flew into a rage in front of the reporter, prompting a less-than-flattering story of the couple. …


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