And in the 24-hour news cycle, spouses are a key part of the political story, with reporters and news cameras following them to events — just as they do candidates.
“There is absolute transparency of everything that you do. There’s always a telephone with a camera on it. You’re never off,” said longtime political spouse Debbie Dingell, whose husband, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), has served in Congress since 1955.
Opting out of politics altogether was not a choice that appealed to her, she said.
By contrast, Judith Steinberg Dean, a physician and wife of 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, declined to campaign — a move that was derided by political pundits.
Reluctant political wives are not new political animals, but today’s intensified scrutiny and unyielding pace are putting even more pressure on them.
Before Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour announced his decision not to seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, his wife told a Mississippi television station that the idea of a national campaign “horrifies” her.
As first lady of Indiana, Cheri Daniels has shunned traditional politicking, with her husband saying she is “anti-political.”
“There is no rule book for this as far as I’m concerned,” she recently told reporters, referring to her role as a political spouse.
She and her husband, who is being strongly encouraged to run by some Republicans, have carefully guarded the most sensitive part of their marital history.
Their story may not neatly fit ideas about the prototypical first family. But as time has shown, there is room for change, Mandel said. Someday, a man could be the first spouse.
“It isn’t simply a smiling housewife,” she said. “There’s more diversity.”
At what was billed as her first major speech before a political audience Thursday night, Cheri Daniels spoke for 20 minutes about her low-key life as first lady of Indiana. She wore a red sheath dress and regaled the audience with stories of milking cows, flipping pancakes and spitting watermelon seeds.
Molly Deuberry, a Republican who attended the speech, said she sees the Danielses as compelling. “I think the story of reconciliation is a strong story,” she said. “If anything, it kind of helps solidify them as a role model couple for the country.”
Staff writers Rachel Weiner and Anne E. Kornblut and polling director Jon Cohen contributed to this report.