Barring some truly over-the-top outburst, however, Teresa's mouthiness will probably matter less than how her offbeat persona plays into voters' views about her husband. Like running mates, political spouses have meaning and impact largely in the way they reflect on the candidates themselves. Opinions vary as to how Teresa may confirm or confound the conventional wisdom about her husband. Democrats hope her spunk will combat Kerry's image as an aloof, dull-as-mud equivocator. (Surely it takes a strong, self-assured man to keep up with a spitfire like "T," as friends call her.) Republicans hope that her eye-popping wealth will help them tar Kerry as an out-of-touch elitist, and that her outspokenness will raise the question of who wears the pants in their household. (What kind of man puts up with that sort of sass anyway?) There's little question, however, that the irrepressible Teresa (pronounced Tuh-ray-za, much to the delight of Republicans) serves to highlight how very not average the Kerry family is. As one Democratic strategist put it, "My thought has always been that to the extent Kerry seems slightly odd and different from the rest of us, Teresa accentuates that."
One of the more surprising things about Teresa is how quietly she speaks. Despite her bomb-throwing reputation, her voice is low, throaty, and heavily accented in a sexy, Sophia Loren kind of way. It stays soft and measured even when she's discussing what it's like to be labeled "outspoken," "opinionated," "tough," and even "crazy" by the chattering classes.
"That's one thing about expectations for women on the campaign trail," Teresa explains to me. "If I were at a conference with colleagues and said the same things, they would not call me outspoken. They would say I was uninformed, well-informed, dumb—or whatever was appropriate. It would be contextual. But out there, the expectation is that a woman has to be adoring, silent, smiling. She is not to be measured according to who she is and what she does and what she knows." The political world has such a narrow conception of what's acceptable from the wives, she purrs.
Controversial image notwithstanding, Teresa has been a rigorous campaigner on her husband's behalf, crisscrossing the country for speeches, fundraisers, and rallies. It's a big concession from a woman accustomed to a level of privacy and privilege incompatible with campaign life—and one who has long opposed her husband's running for President. "The main reason Kerry did not run last time was that she was opposed to it," a Democrat close to the campaign told me. "She came around to it this time, and to her everlasting credit, once he got in she became an enthusiastic partner."
Though often compared to Hillary Clinton, Teresa Heinz Kerry has no political aspirations of her own and little interest in the details of her husband's race. "She's not involved in the nitty-gritty of the campaign," a former campaign staffer says. "My experience is more that she has really strong opinions on policy." This latter fact, of course, thrills Republicans, who portray Teresa as another aspiring co-President. Undeterred, she continues to share her policy views, along with her total disdain for the Bush Administration's handling of everything from global warming to stem-cell research. ("Sinful," "un-American," and "ignorant" are some of the more colorful labels she has applied to the actions of the Administration.)