The Teresa Heinz Kerry Fan Club -- the cross-section of Democratic women gathered here from across the country -- had found another reason to cheer their hero, and they were loving it.
"I'm going to vote for her -- twice!" said Thelma Goldstein, delegate to the Democratic National Convention from Falmouth, Mass.
"She's not afraid to say what she thinks," said Joyce U. Gibson of Dixon, Ill., whose sister is a delegate.
"I'll say," said Rachel Rifkind, a guest and district chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee in Virginia.
The women, attending a convention caucus luncheon Monday at the Sheraton Boston Hotel, were all impressed that Heinz Kerry had told a Pittsburgh newspaper reporter Sunday to "shove it" when he kept asking her to explain remarks she made during a speech. For many, it was just the sort of thing most politicians wish they could say to pesky reporters, and just the reason that Heinz Kerry is such a fresh breath of air amid the stale on-message speechifying by most politicians.
They were also annoyed at the media for harping on the exchange. "Even though she gets attacked by some of the media," said Eva Royale, a delegate from California, "it's important that she continue to voice her opinions."
But somewhere, Democratic Party strategists were biting their fingernails, wondering not for the first time whether Heinz Kerry's popular candor can sometimes prove as much of a distraction to the ticket as an attraction. Heinz Kerry's remarks looped all day on the cable news channels, and were Topic A of every pre-scheduled interview she gave to the major networks, which will air Tuesday on the morning shows. Moreover, every prominent Democrat interviewed Monday, including her husband, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the man who would be president, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), his running mate, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) was forced off message to comment about Heinz Kerry's remarks.
Heinz Kerry and the reporter, for the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, clashed after she had urged the Pennsylvania delegation "to turn back some of the creeping, un-Pennsylvanian and sometimes un-American traits that are coming into some of our politics," and he repeatedly pressed her about what she meant by "un-American activity."
"You said something I didn't say, now shove it," Heinz Kerry said.
Asked Monday night by NBC's Katie Couric whether she regretted the remark, Heinz Kerry said: "No, I don't. And -- I think that I -- say what I believe. I'm plain-spoken. I really want him to back off. . . . Reporters generally don't do this. They don't trap you and they don't misrepresent you when they talk to you. That's exactly what he did."
Kerry, for his part, was tersely supportive. "I think my wife speaks her mind appropriately," he told reporters while campaigning in Florida.
"Teresa Heinz Kerry is a wonderful person," said Edwards, who was campaigning in Raleigh, N.C. "She's smart, she's warm, gracious, wonderful to watch around her family. They adore her. Everybody gets a little frustrated with the media every once in a while. But as a human being, I think we want her out there on the campaign."
Clinton, interviewed on CNN to advance the appearance she will make at the convention Monday, said: "A lot of Americans are going to say, 'Good for you, you go girl.' And that's certainly how I feel about it."
The party faithful at the convention certainly did. Heinz Kerry, 65, an ex-Republican who is worth the unfathomable sum of maybe $1 billion from her late husband, John Heinz, has become such a star among average female Democrats that she seems to inspire more excitement among them than her husband. And now that the would-be first lady is undergoing the inevitable political transition from media darling to media moving target, her fans are circling around her like a fence.
"I'm so furious with people who try to put her down," said Pat Hawkins, a delegate from North Carolina. But among the public at large, Heinz Kerry is still an unknown quantity. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found her favorable rating at 27 percent and unfavorable at 26 percent, with a whopping 47 percent of those polled with no opinion of her. In contrast, first lady Laura Bush had a 66 percent favorable rating, with 12 percent of those polled having an unfavorable opinion of her and 22 percent with no opinion.
Millions of Americans will see Heinz Kerry for the first time when she addresses the convention in a prime-time speech Tuesday night. Aides said she will speak about her life as an immigrant (she was born in Mozambique) and the issues she cares about most.
In an interview a few months ago, Heinz Kerry wondered whether she would be able to connect with voters on a large scale the way she had at intimate house parties and forums before the Iowa caucuses. She was wistful that she might not get to talk much about issues that matter to her, such as the effect of toxins on children's health, an issue she has been passionate about, she said, for 15 years, since founding an organization to study the effects of lead poisoning on children.
"It's the kind of thing that doesn't happen much any more," she said then, referring to in-depth discussions with voters. "I've been actually writing some plots on how to do it."