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Political wives: Rules of the road

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Anita Perry has had one of the most puzzling roll-outs of any of the campaign spouses this season. She has cried on the stump. She has talked about being brutalized by the press and her party. And she blamed President Obama for the loss of her son’s job. As her husband, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, struggled to look like a commander-in-chief, she struggled to get command of her emotions. BRIAN SNYDER REUTERS Rick Perry speaks as his wife Anita looks on at a house party in Greenland, N.H., on August 13, 2011.

Perry made what was a rough stretch for her husband even rougher. And with that, she broke rule number one of the political wives club: First do no harm. Friday she heads to Iowa for a two-day swing through a must-win state for her husband.

Here is what she should keep in mind:

1. Be strong, where spouse is weak — President Obama is known for being professorial and aloof. So what does Michelle Obama do? She campaigns in Florida Thursday and says this: “Believe me, Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have a chance to fulfill their potential. Oh, and lord knows today, as a father, he knows what it means to want your children to grow up with no limits to their dreams.” In Iowa, Perry can do her husband some good by humanizing him — as Ann Romney has done for Mitt — and trying to reframe the immigration debate, which has dogged him in the Hawkeye state.

2. Go where your spouse can’t — Eleanor Roosevelt traveled the country for her husband, tending to his base and serving as a bridge to black Americans. Michelle Obama has often done the same, speaking frankly about race and framing her initiative to curb childhood obesity around class and region. Political spouses are at their best when they are not only message and force amplifiers, but also expand a spouse’s reach. On the stump, Laura Bush was a hit among people who didn’t care for her husband and helped broaden his appeal in that way.

3. Soft politics over hard — Any political campaign will be full of partisan spokespeople. So for spouses, there’s no need to go there. Better to talk about a spouse’s record, rather than go negative on an opponent (that’s what campaign ads are for). Anita Perry, a nurse, reportedly advised her husband on his HPV decision and has been a long time advocate for victims of sexual assault. While Rick Perry has eschewed the Bush model of the compassionate conservative, his wife could put a softer spin on Perry’s Texas swagger and help him with women voters.

And finally, Anita McBride, who met Anita Perry in Texas and served as chief of staff to Laura Bush, offered this advice to the political spouse: “Be yourself and let the voters decide.”

WHERE TO FIND THE CANDIDATES:

Perry and Ron Paul will be in New Hampshire

WORTH READING:

Steve Chu, center of the Solyndra storm

Rick Perry, profiled in Rolling Stone

The Romney economy

Rubio on flights to Cuba, family story

Obama campaign relies on lobbyists for fund-raising

WORTH WATCHING:Anita Perry campaign ad, 2010 Texas governor’s race

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