Since Senator John Kerry became a serious contender for the Presidency, the media has subjected his record and character to intense scrutiny. The Atlantic Monthly has been no exception. Over the past year, Atlantic contributors have addressed everything from Kerry's Vietnam experience, to his foreign policy views, his debating skills, and even the suitability of his wife as a First Lady. Those seeking perspective on Kerry from before the frenzy of this year's presidential race, however, may be interested in "A Race Too Far" (August 1996), in which Atlantic senior editor Jack Beatty analyzed that year's Senate contest between Kerry, who was the incumbent, and then-Massachusetts Governor William Weld. In the course of assessing what he described as "this strange race" between "a rich Harvard guy raised on a Long Island estate who married a Roosevelt" (Weld) and "a rich Yale guy raised abroad who married a Portuguese catsup heiress" (Kerry), Beatty offered an in-depth look at Kerry and how he was perceived by voters.
Then, as now, Kerry suffered from the perception that he was stiff and off-puttingly aloof. "Archaeologists have searched," Beatty wrote, "but have been unable to discover a single Kerry joke." His standoffish image was in no way helped by anecdotes such as this one, concerning his wife, Teresa Heinz:
When Heinz was mugged in Washington, Kerry kept to his round of fundraising events instead of rushing to her side. Did she miss him? "I just needed hugs," she confided to Margery Eagan, of the Boston Herald. Those may have been the four most frightening words spoken in Massachusetts Democratic politics in decades.
Like today, many were also uncertain as to what to make of Heinz herself, who seemed anything but the appropriately supportive political helpmeet. Massachusetts residents caught bemused glimpses of her in passing:
Though she still refers to John Heinz (not John Kerry) as "my husband," though she is still a Republican, and though her official residence is still in Pennsylvania, Heinz has deigned to refurbish a mansion on Beacon Hill's most exclusive block, and frequent local sightings of her have been reported.
Beatty suggested that Kerry's "cool, cerebral manner," and his failure to emerge from the shadow of his more famous Massachusetts colleague, Ted Kennedy, had left many without a clear image of the junior senator. "These are the questions people ask about Kerry," Beatty wrote. "What has he done for Massachusetts? What has he done for the country? What has he done, period?"