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Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

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Posted at 01:51 PM ET, 07/11/2012

Did Bob Kerrey's wife sabotage his Senate campaign by dissing Nebraska?

My, how the political spouse has evolved.

She used to be quiet, demure, dressed to the nines and looking adoringly at her husband at all times, like Nancy Reagan. Then career women like Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean’s physician wife, Judith,
Bob Kerrey, his wife Sarah Paley and their son, Henry. (Kerrey campaign - Kerrey campaign)
came on the scene. Political husbands like Todd Palin hit the trail, too.

Enter Sarah Paley. She’s married to Nebraska Democratic Senate candidate Bob Kerrey. She’s a New Yorker. And she doesn’t care what people think about her. She says that very thing in the July issue of “Vogue.”

Paley, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer, confesses in her article that she wants nothing to do with politics. At all. She even confesses she doesn’t understand Nebraska or its citizens. And forget about the state’s number one sport, football. She doesn’t like it either.

Such frankness is so rare in politics that I wasn’t sure whether to cheer or cringe. Both, I think. But the part of me that knows how campaigns are operated wanted to shriek. The Kerrey campaign cannot be happy – at all.

Kerrey, who served as Nebraska’s governor and later U.S. senator from 1989 to 2001, is already down in the polls. He hasn’t lived in the state for more than 10 years. His opponent, Deb Fischer, a state legislator, is
Nebraska state Senator Deb Fischer addresses supporters at the Republican Party headquarters in Lincoln, Neb. (Mark Davis - AP)
gaining steam and has Sarah Palin on her side.

Paley is oh-so-witty in her tart-tongued essay titled “The (Not So) Good Wife” in the magazine’s Upfront section.

She jokes that she wished her husband had a past with an intern or even one of their friends. She writes that she has begged them to come forward if they have. She flat out confesses that she didn’t want her husband to run. Some may wonder if Paley is trying to disrupt her husband’s campaign.

“There’s no need for Sarah Paley to call an escort service; her essay is enough to sabotage her campaign,” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University.

Vogue readers will appreciate the bluntness. Nebraskan moms and wives may not.

Paley is as far from their worlds as Ted Nugent is from a NOW meeting. Midwesterners don’t always appreciate the big city ways of New Yorkers, with their expensive foreign shoes and uppity sense of humor. They like their leaders and even their billionaires to be down-to-earth. Example: Warren Buffett, a Nebraskan who still lives in Omaha, in a house he bought in the 1950s.

What political wives say or do shouldn’t really matter.

But it does matter. How many times did pundits say that John Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, was a liability to him in his 2004 White House bid? Just one of her unhelpful statements: “My legal name is still Teresa Heinz. Teresa Heinz Kerry is my name...for politics.”

Hillary Clinton was seen as a liability for years in Arkansas when her husband was the state’s governor. Even in 1992 on the national scene, she was still a somewhat iffy political spouse. But the Clintons were always a political couple.

Kerrey has come to the defense of his wife – and of Nebraskans. He told the Omaha World-Herald that his wife wasn’t making fun of the state’s citizenry. She only wanted to earn a few laughs, he said. “She would defend her humor 100 percent,” Kerrey told the newspaper.

Still, maybe Paley should have restrained her humor until after November.  As a comedy writer – and a political spouse – the first rule is “know your audience.”

Suzi Parker is a journalist based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.

By  |  01:51 PM ET, 07/11/2012

Tags:  Bob Kerrey, Sarah Paley, Deb Fischer, Warren Buffett, Nebraska, Sarah Palin

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