Sexual Politics: When A Candidate's Wife Or Daughter Trips Him Up

Sometimes a political campaign's stumble is all in the family.

They have a penchant for couture gowns, Chanel and private jets. They pose for Vogue photo shoots, throw hissy fits and dis paparazzi from their limos. Sounds like the kind of stuff you'd expect from your average multiplatinum diva, but we're not talking about Britney or the Simpson sisters — these are the antics of the women in the lives of the presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Actual and aspiring first ladies have it rough. Despite the fact that they're not the ones in public office, the media views them as fair game. No aspect of their lives is out of bounds, from the words that slip their lips to the slips on their hips.

Potential first wife Teresa Heinz Kerry has a weakness for Chanel suits and flashy Pucci scarves. These designer duds run several thousand dollars, a fact some feel is hypocritical for a person whose husband decries Bush as out of touch with average Americans. Laura Bush prefers unassuming suits by a Dallas-based designer. Come stately functions, though, Laura busts out garments worth a couple G's, such as her personal fave, floor-sweeping Oscar de la Renta ball gowns.

Heinz Kerry and Bush wear the clothes that go with the territory: They are both fabulously wealthy — Teresa reportedly one of the 10 richest women in America thanks to her deceased ex-husband's ketchup fortune (yes, that Heinz) — and both are always in the public eye. Articles like the one you are reading illustrate why these ladies need to stay in check: If they don't, someone's gonna write about it.

Like the celeb of the moment, top political candidates' wives are courted by designers seeking publicity. Laura Holbrook, spokesperson for the Ellen Tracy line, said her company contacted all four wives (Bush and Kerry's, as well as the wives of Dick Cheney and John Edwards). "We sent them look books of our spring and fall collections," she said, adding that the only difference between these women and Hollywood stars is that "political women always pay for their clothes. Entertainment women don't necessarily."

Kerry's eldest daughter, Alexandra, came under fire when she caused a PG-13 moment at the Cannes Film Festival. Her dress (unbeknownst to her, she said) became transparent under the flash bulbs of the paparazzi. Adversaries used her see-through gown to peer into family values, criticizing her dad for raising a daughter who dressed so promiscuously.

Looks aren't everything, though. What these women say is often linked to their husbands and probed for its political significance. For example, seldom-seen VP spouse Lynne Cheney made headlines when she publicly voiced a political stance different from her husband's, saying she opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Her opinion may stem from the fact that one of her daughters is a lesbian.

The usually quiet Mrs. Cheney is racier than one might suspect. She has penned several novels, including "Sisters" (1981), a historical romance with a lesbian tryst, and "The Body Politic" (1989), a political mystery surrounding a Republican vice president who dies of a heart attack while in the sack with a journalist.

Heinz Kerry made waves after telling a querulous reporter to "shove it" shortly after she'd given a speech denouncing negativity in political campaigning. And at a recent campaign stop, she responded to Bush-supporting hecklers shouting for "four more years" by quipping, "They want four more years of hell." In response to all the media attention, Kerry defended his wife, saying, "My wife speaks her mind appropriately."

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton also came to her defense, saying, "A lot of Americans are going to say, 'Good for you; you go, girl,' and that's certainly how I feel about it."

Clinton is no stranger to gaffes. She nearly succeeded in isolating an entire demographic slice of her husband's voter base during his first campaign for president. The young Mrs. Clinton, in response to criticism of her ambition, defended her lifestyle by saying, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies." Homemakers and the matronly first lady at the time, Barbara Bush, took offense, and the jab inspired a cookie contest held by Family Circle magazine. Each election, the sitting first lady and the opposing candidate's wife submit cookie recipes that the readers can try and then vote on.

This year, Theresa Heinz-Kerry sent in her "yummy wonders" recipe, but the folks at Family Circle said the recipe didn't work in the kitchen. This prompted her staff to submit a pumpkin spice cookie, which was deemed not only inedible, but plagiarized. Heinz Kerry suspected sabotage: "Somebody at my office gave that recipe out and, in fact, I think somebody really [wrote] it on purpose to give a nasty recipe. I've never made pumpkin cookies; I don't like pumpkin spice cookies."

Proving that women aren't all sugar and spice, even unassuming Barbara Bush had her missteps, once dissing Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro as a "rhymes with 'rich.' " Her granddaughter, George W. Bush's daughter Jenna (dubbed "Jenna and Tonic" by the press after she and her twin were busted trying to buy booze with fake IDs), recently stuck her tongue out at the press as they snapped pictures.

Not every political gal is a Jacqueline Kennedy, a style icon who caused stores to sell out of her ubiquitous pillbox hats, or an Eleanor Roosevelt, who inspired millions when she took the reins on the humanitarian front. They might not always be great role models, but they are unified in the fact that they all stand by their men. Given their behavior, though, the guys might not want to stand too close.

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