When she first moved into the White House, she was called the
"anti-Hillary." She had long ago given up her own career to support
her husband and raise her children. She had married George W. Bush
on the condition that she never have to deliver a political speech.
She largely avoided controversy.
That Laura Bush is no more. Now in the thick of her husband's
reelection campaign, and speaking at the Republican National
Convention Tuesday night, she has for months crisscrossed the
country, raising millions of dollars and delivering speeches on the
economy, jobs, women, and, lately, the hottest of hot-button topics,
In an interview in this week's Time magazine, she was asked
whether the recent ads by anti-Kerry Vietnam veterans were unfair,
and replied, "Not really. There have been millions of terrible ads
against my husband." The Kerry campaign hit back, saying Mrs. Bush's
statement showed that "these attacks have been coordinated from the
top down at the White House."
If being hit by the opposition is a sign of having "arrived"
politically, then Laura Bush is there. And she is uniquely
positioned to speak to voters in a way that other surrogates can't.
To her husband's strategists, fighting for every advantage possible
in a neck-and-neck race, Mrs. Bush's months-long transformation from
shy helpmate to campaign heavyweight took place not a moment too
"She's incredibly important to the campaign," said Ken Mehlman,
manager of the reelection effort, speaking to reporters recently.
"She appeals across the board, she appeals across the country, she
appeals to our base, she appeals to swing voters, she appeals to
The campaign also hopes Mrs. Bush can bring along more women
voters in a race where the longstanding gender gap, which favors
Democrats, is again evident. "She's emerged out of necessity," says
James Rosebush, a former assistant to first lady Nancy Reagan and
author of a book on first ladies. "The campaign needs people who are
close to George Bush helping define who he is. What better person
could you have than Laura Bush?"
In the latest Fox News poll, Mrs. Bush scored a higher
favorability rating, at 67 percent, than her husband (50 percent),
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry (48), his running mate,
Sen. John Edwards (49), Sen. John McCain (57), or former New York
mayor Rudolph Giuliani (59). Senator Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz
Kerry, scored only a 38, but she remains unknown to many voters.
Will Mrs. Bush's popularity make any difference in the
president's bottom line come November? In the final analysis, people
are voting for the top of the ticket - not the spouse or the running
mate, analysts have long maintained. But they don't rule out a
potential indirect benefit from Mrs. Bush's testimonials from the
"She's someone who has that special brand of credibility in an
administration that's credibility-challenged at the moment in some
ways," says Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University
of Texas, Austin. "It has to do with her transparent authenticity.
She's not somebody who gives the impression she's saying something
because someone told her to. Voters know she's not a slick
Because Mrs. …