For decades, the wives of politicians have stood silently beside them as they held news conferences in the midst of scandals. But on Tuesday night, Huma Abedin, the wife of Anthony Weiner, did something extraordinary: she spoke, at some length.
Abedin, who confessed at the start of her remarks she was "a little nervous," delivered a personal and poignant defense of her husband, who resigned his House seat two years ago after admitting he had sent lewd tweets to young women. Now, as he seeks to become New York's mayor, he was forced to acknowledge he continued to engage in online sex chats with a 22-year-old woman last year even after such behavior had forced him from office.
“Anthony’s made some horrible mistakes, both before he resigned from Congress and after, but I do truly believe that that is between us and our marriage,” Abedin said. “I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him, and as we have said from the beginning, we are moving forward.”
Her decision to speak before the cameras about her husband represented Weiner's best (and really only) chance at somehow surviving this latest set of revelations. Abedin prevented the hastily-called news conference from devolving into a media feeding frenzy, in which a politician seeking to make a comeback would be pelted with harsh questions from the press.
(Compare this news conference to one in 2011 in which the late Andrew Breitbart hopped on stage and spoke at length and even when Weiner did get to the microphone he was repeatedly heckled by people in the crowd.)
But it may not be enough to help him win the primary against New York City Council chairwoman Christine Quinn, and it raises a critical question: in a situation like this, does it matter what a disgraced politician's spouse thinks?
During her brief remarks Abedin repeatedly framed Weiner's behavior as a personal matter, saying the situation was "between us and our marriage," and that "it was not an easy choice in any way, but I made the decision that it was worth staying in this marriage. That was a decision I made for me, for our son, and for our family."
It was a stark reminder of how hard it is to understand another couple's marriage -- whether a political family or not -- as an outside observer. Unlike both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Lee Hart, wife of former senator Gary Hart (D-Colo.), who initially defended their husbands as innocent when charges of infidelity surfaced, Abedin did not pretend her husband was unblemished.
"Our marriage, like many others, has had its ups and its downs," Abedin said. "It took a lot of work and whole lot of therapy to get to a place where I could forgive Anthony."
But the message she delivered Tuesday was largely the same as those of political spouses before her: If she could forgive him for his misdeeds, the voters could, too. Abedin did not make the case for why Weiner was best positioned to lead New York, and even if she made that case, it's unclear whether voters would buy it.
Weiner made an explicit link between his wife's decision to stay with him and his current political quest, saying: "I am pleased and blessed she decided to give me a second chance," and adding that he was now "asking New Yorkers to give me a second chance."
But it's unclear whether Democrats, who before this latest incident had a higher unfavorable than favorable view of Weiner, will do that. A recent poll from Siena College and the New York Times showed him trailing Quinn 27 percent to 18 percent in the Democratic primary.
In the end, voters must decide if Weiner has the judgment and the skills to lead the nation's largest city. He and Abedin have answered that question in their own minds. But when it comes to New York City's electorate, the answer is far less certain.