Skip to comments.Is she Kerry's secret weapon?
Posted on 02/27/2004 10:46:54 PM PST by Utah Girl
Queen bee or steel magnolia? First Ladies-in-waiting face difficult choices. Alec Russell watches Teresa Heinz Kerry give a solo performance.
She had a far-away look on her face, as if she would rather have been anywhere else. But Teresa Heinz Kerry, the fabulously wealthy wife of the hot favourite for the Democratic presidential nomination, was determined to do her bit: this time, a speech to a small group of Hispanic immigrants in Los Angeles.
Many were the children of Mexicans who had fled to California with little more than the clothes on their backs. With appropriate sensitivity, the candidate's 65-year-old wife had left her favourite Chanel outfits hanging in the wardrobe; instead, she had opted for a brown velvet jacket and a ribbed yellow jersey draped casually over her shoulders. Close-up, it looked suspiciously like cashmere.
On a stage in the city's old Hispanic heart, she spoke for 10 minutes with her trademark blend of irreverence and straight-talking - all delivered in a husky Mediterranean accent. It was utterly unlike anything else on offer on the "trail" this year. Her reminiscences of growing up in 1940s Mozambique, where her father was a doctor, drew a few blank looks. And many anecdotes had the most oblique of political links.
Is southern Africa really "very like" Los Angeles as she suggested? And was it not a bit of a stretch to imply that her life story was analogous to the experiences of her audience?
Soon after she arrived in America in 1966, as a language consultant at the UN, Teresa married her first husband, John Heinz, heir to the ketchup empire. When he died in a plane crash in 1991, he left her three sons and one of America's great fortunes - estimated at more than $550 million. She now has a private jet known as the "Flying Squirrel", and a prenup agreement with John Kerry, whom she married in 1995.
And yet her speech went down brilliantly with the colourful gathering. The reminiscences seemed heartfelt, rather than artful - if a little offbeat. And her soft, Portuguese-inflected speaking voice was a refreshing contrast to the tub-thumbing of the local Democrats, who had delivered the warm-up act.
When she touched on the issues she has promoted over the years as a philanthropist - the environment, human rights, children's education - she spoke with real passion. At every possible break in her speech, the crowd bellowed: "Si, se puede" ("Yes, we can win").
In the past six weeks, as Senator Kerry has shot from the back of the field, Teresa Heinz Kerry has become an increasingly popular speaker. All this week, she was campaigning solo in the western states of Idaho and California as her husband wooed Democrats in the East. She now regularly addresses three rallies a day. With her fluent Spanish, she is a particular asset for courting Hispanics.
And to the surprise of her aides, her unorthodox style is a hit with supporters who line up for autographs after each speech. "People like straight-talking, honest and forthright people. And that's what she is," said Antonio Villaraigosa, an LA councillor. "She is John Kerry's secret weapon. She has a refreshing sincerity ."
When she had finished, she took questions. Someone asked what she thought was the right role for a First Lady, and her aides visibly tensed. Even the audience appeared to sense that this was a big moment. Would Teresa be just a little too frank?
A year ago, she gave a gloriously outspoken interview to Elle magazine, which is believed to have left her husband's handlers in fits. Revealing that she had only just changed her political affiliation from the Republicans - her first husband was a Republican senator - she said that she had changed her surname from Heinz to Heinz Kerry only because of pressure from Democratic aides.
"Uh-oh," she said with a giggle, before addressing the "First Lady" question. For the first time in the evening, she gave the impression of picking her words with care. "Every spouse, and eventually I hope there will be a First Man, should be... I hope that our country will be, um, tolerant and wise to leave a spouse be, whoever they are."
Everyone exhaled. She continued more confidently. "Some people are shy and quiet and some people are outgoing and some people are very political. You know, everyone is different. I will just be myself and I will continue to do my work out of the White House, if I am there."
On "Super Tuesday" next week, when Democrats in 10 states hold contests for the nomination, the craggy-faced senator is expected to be crowned as the man to take on George W Bush. And then, as nervous Democrats know all too well, his wife will face her sternest test. "Is Teresa Heinz an asset or an Achilles' heel?" asked the Los Angeles Times in a profile of her this week.
She is undeniably different from Laura Bush, whom many consider the perfect First Lady. They may particularly appreciate her image as a demure 1950s-style home-maker, but she is also politically skilful and an assiduous fund-raiser. Above all, Mrs Bush has learned - and Mrs Heinz Kerry may be about to learn - one of the golden rules of American politics: that First Ladies have to be typecast.
"You would think that being First Lady would be one of the plum prizes in the land," writes Michael Deaver, a close friend and former aide of the Reagans, in his new book, Nancy. "In fact... without ever seeking elective office yourself, you're suddenly cast into the national limelight. Dress down too much and you're dowdy (Barbara Bush, Mamie Eisenhower). Dress up too much and you're a queen bee. Fail to smile sufficiently (Rosalynn Carter, Pat Nixon), and you'll be branded a steel magnolia."
Mrs Heinz Kerry is more likely to be compared by her detractors to those arch-operators Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan. She is, for example, closely involved in her husband's policy-making, although she was rumoured to be against his decision to stand,
"Well, I think anybody who has a brain at a discussion at the dining-room table helps shape policy," she told the rally, when asked if she would be involved in policy-making in a Kerry White House. "Informally always - not formally, no," she added quickly.
In other ways, she is nothing like Mrs Clinton or Mrs Reagan, who did all they could to shore up their men. Even at this late stage of the race, Mrs Heinz Kerry disdains the adoring poses of the political spouse. Rather, she frequently wriggles and recoils from her husband's embrace on the campaign trail. This, says one of her friends, is because she is shy.
But she also leaves little doubt that she abhors political machinations and campaign formulas almost as much as she does the media. "You become a football field that people punt on," she told the LA Times. "You know what? I just don't care... the point is, people write what they want to write."
The reaction of the crowd in LA suggested that she is starting to "catch on". But they were, of course, committed Democrats. The reaction of the heartland may be less favourable - or so, at least, the Republicans are hoping. She has already come under fire from conservative talk-show hosts for her cashmere scarves and "unruly" hair.
Only last week, the Republican National Committee emailed a quote from her to journalists, in which she compared her husband to a "good wine". She concluded: "You know it takes time to mature and, when it gets really good, you can sip it" - just the sort of line, say Republicans, that brands the Kerrys as out of touch with the mainstream.
Teresa Heinz Kerry, however, claims to be ready for everything. "My pledge is to keep my head above water and let the dirt land where it may," she said.
I know it is hard to believe but Kerry's ball and chain is the nastiest piece of work I have seen in a long time.
Jeez, I spend my day listening to conservative talk show hosts...and I have yet to hear any such thing mentioned. By a host, a guest or a caller.
I guess the Telegraph reporter doesn't listen to the same shows, huh?
Or do you suppose he was fed that line by a Kerry "operative"...???
Just like her husband, she considers the people she is forced to meet and greet on the campaign trail, as nothing more than pawns or Cog's in the wheel that will take her to the place she feels is owed to her and her Winter Soldier, simply because they desire it, and therefore entitled to it
That is because liberals receive radio transmissions through the fillings in their teeth and all of those are "conservative talk radio" transmissions.
I wonder how many SUVs could be filled with the fuel her plane uses in one fill up. Of course she wants all us peons to drive much more "environmentally friendly" vehicles.
What the heck is tub-thunbing?? Some new bizarre democrat ritual?
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