Bryan Otte is voting for President Bush on Tuesday. His wife of nearly eight years, Brenda Bachman, is voting for John Kerry.
Sit down with them over bagels and coffee in their Bethesda home and you see their obvious love and respect for each other. But in this superpoliticized capital of this highly partisan country during this most polarized of all election seasons, you have got to wonder how they live together. If a person's political leanings reflect heartfelt beliefs, how can someone possibly fall in love with a person whose politics are so different?
Well, it just happens.
Otte, 40, is matter-of-fact about their two-party marriage. He says, "I've had people at work say to me: 'I couldn't have married someone from another party.' "
The couple chuckle about their differences. They have even celebrated them on occasion. Otte once escorted Bachman to a Hillary Rodham Clinton rally. And Bachman, in turn, suffered through her husband's account of a Republican conference that featured California's movie star governor. "I brushed up against Arnold Schwarzenegger," Otte says. After the event, "I told her stories for hours. And she listened."
Bachman groans. "I tried."
Otte, a business consultant for an online publishing firm, is the son of Dutch immigrants who moved to the outskirts of Colorado Springs when he was in grade school. Otte's mother is for Bush, his father is against Bush. "She's watching Fox News all day long," Otte says, "and my father is yelling at her to turn the damn thing off."
Bachman, 36, a bankruptcy litigator for a government pension agency, is the daughter of Republicans from Bowling Green, Ohio. Both her parents ran for public office. Her father won a judge's race; her mother lost a mayoral contest. When Bachman went off to Wellesley College in 1986, she began drifting toward the Democratic Party.
Otte and Bachman met in Colorado in the summer of 1990. He was working with a group of Republicans in a gubernatorial race. She was a volunteer for a Democratic political action committee. One day he came into her office to borrow a phone. "I'm from the Republicans -- ," he started to say. She didn't even let him finish his sentence. She had heard enough.
"No," she said. Whatever he wanted, he wasn't getting. Whatever he was selling, she wasn't buying.
Somehow they became friends and began dating -- attracted by a shared sense of humor and other mysterious forces. In the fall of 1992, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore were elected, "we had our first big fight," Otte says. Bachman and some of her friends called him up and tauntingly sang, "We are the champions of the world!"
He shakes his head at the memory. "They took a perfectly good song and ruined it."
Otte was angry for several days. "Brenda finally apologized," he says. "We have learned what pushes each other's buttons. And we have learned how to not push those buttons."
The political odd couple moved to Washington in the summer of 1994 so Bachman could attend law school. They spent a few years in New York and then returned to Washington in 1999.
It's a city designed for dual- (and dueling) agenda couples. By day, people on each side of the aisle wage wicked wars against the other. But when the sun goes down, political enemies have been known to drink, dine and sometimes even sleep together.
Republican insider Mary Matalin and her husband, Democratic insider James Carville, live here. They are the country's most famous two-party pair -- if you don't count Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family.
Still, bipartisan couples aren't common, says Lindon J. Eaves, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies human behavior. "If you look at spouses for social attitudes," he says, "on the whole they tend to be fairly significantly alike." In fact, social attitudes, which include political traits such as liberalism and conservatism, are much more important to people who are choosing mates than physical appearance or personality traits such as extroversion or neuroticism.
Another two-party Washington couple, Rich and Linda Tarplin, have been married for 14 years. When they met in the late 1980s, Rich, a Democrat, was working for Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Linda, a Republican, was at the Department of Health and Human Services. While making wedding plans, they fought against each other over a child care bill. And during the battle over the Family Medical Leave Act in the 1990s, Linda and Rich were again at loggerheads. She was a special assistant to the president for legislative affairs and he was the staff director of the Senate subcommittee on children and families.
Today, the Tarplins are lobbyists in small firms.
"We started out with a professional relationship," Rich, 44, says. "We were working against each other on these issues. We developed mutual respect."
Linda remembers that they were reluctant to let the relationship blossom at first. "Initially we were friends for a long time," she says. "We were both probably a little hesitant."
Now, she says, "I find it odd that people wouldn't be attracted to people just because of their political affiliation."
One secret to a successful bipartisan marriage, Rich says, is to not bring work home. Over the years he has learned "to separate work and personal life a little better." Linda says they have neither the time nor the energy to talk about politics after hours.
In the days before cell phones, home life got a little crazy. The Tarplins shared one home telephone line and they took turns making calls at night, with one on the phone behind a closed door and the other agreeing to stay out of earshot.
They have two sons, 10 and 7. One kid is for Kerry and one is for Bush. The whole bipartisan experience, Rich says, "makes me hopeful and optimistic about the political process. People who are loyal to different parties, who share common beliefs and values, can get along."
And just what are those common beliefs and values? "We're parents," Linda says. "You hope you live in a world where your children are safe and they have a good future and a strong economy. Just because we believe you get there in different ways doesn't mean we don't share the same goals."
Bachman and Otte agree. "We have learned how to accept each other's differences," Bachman says. And despite their political estrangement, they share the same principles: Respect for other people, honesty, the right to a difference of opinion, education, hard work and having fun.
Come election night, Rich Tarplin will be in South Dakota working for his side. Linda will be in Washington working for hers. Brenda Bachman has been invited to Ohio to work for the Democrats. Bryan Otte has an offer to watch the returns with friends.
He says he will probably stay home. "I think it's going to be a late one."