10/31: The Candidate’s Spouse on the Campaign Trail

October 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Bonnie Angelo, Election Interviews, Featured

Presidential candidates willingly step into the political spotlight, but their spouses are, sometimes, reluctant participants.  What is the role of a candidate’s spouse on the campaign trail?  Historically, how important have they been?  Veteran news correspondent Bonnie Angelo discusses this topic with the Marist Poll’s John Sparks.

Bonnie Angelo, author of "First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives" and "First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents" (courtesy HarperCollins).

Listen to Part 1 of the Interview:


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John Sparks

Bonnie, we’re in the throes of a presidential election. We read and see a lot about the candidates, but do the candidates’ wives play any significant role in the campaign?

Bonnie Angelo

I would say that the candidates’ wives in this day and age play a very significant role.  A candidate’s wife can be a tremendous help, or she can be a disaster.  If she says the wrong thing at the right time, it can haunt her.  So, she’s playing a very important role because people expect a candidate’s wife, the person who wants to be First Lady, live in the White House, be a public figure around the world, she’s got to have something more than just average sorts background.  So, I think that the candidate’s wives are going to be examined more closely.  Each election, they’re going to be examined more closely than they were before.  They’ve got to be public figures, and they’ve got to understand it from the start.

John Sparks

Is it the press who is responsible for this attention on the wives?  I recall when Jackie Kennedy became the media darling, but she really did not like the campaign, did she?

Bonnie Angelo

Oh, Jackie hated it.  She hated the whole scene of politics.  She wanted the White House, and she did beautiful things with the White House, but she did not want to live up to the part where you have to shake a lot of hands, be in boring meetings, be on display whether you want to be or not.  She didn’t really like that; she wanted it on her own terms.  She pretty well managed that, too.

John Sparks

Well, that takes me to leaping to Hillary Clinton.  She actively campaigned for her husband Bill, and then of course, four years ago, she was a candidate.  Now, I think it’s fair to say that with the Clinton’s, either Hillary or Bill, that most folks are not on the fence.  They either really like them, or they don’t.  But I’m just curious, was Bill an asset or a liability in Hillary’s run against Obama four years ago?

Bonnie Angelo

I think he was an asset.  I think he took great pains not to overshadow her.  He did a lot of things on her behalf, speeches and that kind of thing, in a way that did not attract that much attention.  I believe that he was truly supportive, and I think that both of them thought how exciting it would have been for the each of them to have been President of the United States.  It would be historic, and they had a great sense of history.  So, I think that he kept his place very nicely, shall we say.

Listen to Part 2:


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John Sparks

Sure.  Now, I recall back in 1998 when Hillary is campaigning for Bill on his first run.  She made a comment during the campaign that she would not be the kind of woman that would be at home baking cookies, and that prompted Family Circle magazine, they sponsored this cookie bakeoff between Hillary and Barbara Bush, and certainly got a lot of press, but did that have any impact on the election at all?

Bonnie Angelo

I don’t think it had any impact on the election.  I think the election was going to go the way it would, but it did not help because once she was doing was demeaning the role of the average American housewife, and I think that they could see that it was like they were being kind of scoffed at for baking cookies.  Now, she should have handled that smoother.  Would have done it had she stopped to think.  One of the problems for candidates, there’s no time to stop and think.  A question comes flying at you, and you answer it, and you think, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t said that,”  but she couldn’t take it back.  But, I don’t think that helped her at all.

John Sparks

You know in thinking about things that one might want to take back, in 2004, John Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz, made a comment about Laura Bush.  She said that Laura had never really held a real job.  That hurt her I think, and then also the fact that Teresa Heinz had also been a Republican before she married John Kerry, but was she really a factor in the outcome of that election in 2004?

Bonnie Angelo

No, I think the handwriting was already on the wall on that.  I don’t think she helped, not at all.  Maybe, she cased some vote, but I don’t think the outcome would have been any different.  It was  not, shall we say she had not thought it through what she was saying, because you can’t insult somebody in a rather personal way, the way she seemed to insult Laura Bush. Not a wise thing to say, she never put her foot wrong again after that, but you have to be very, very, I should say, the candidate’s wife has got to be very, very careful where she makes — gives opinions.

John Sparks

In summing up, what would you say is the primary thing a candidate’s wife should remember about her role during a campaign?

Bonnie Angelo

I think she could remember that she is out there to help his cause, not in any way trying to overshadow him, and I think they don’t instinctively, but they must bear that in mind that to be very careful not to say anything, to be so well versed in the issues that she would not say anything that could be used against him, and to be supportive of him without being a doormat.

John Sparks

Bonnie, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you.  I appreciate your time this afternoon.

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