A Spouse Can Make (Or Break) a Presidential Candidate's Campaign

michelle obamaI’ve always thought my husband would be a fantastic public servant. I would love for him to run for office, whether city council or anything else. His philosophy is marked by the literal definition of public servant; his approach would be to serve the public that elected him. He is not driven by hubris or notions of grandeur. My husband has a voice of reason and is affable, honest, earnest, and dedicated. He would make a fine public servant indeed. I joke that I would bring him down because one’s spouse can make or break a campaign. A former spouse can be even more costly to a candidate.

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Elected officials are branded by the company they keep, be it their pastor, business associates, spouse(s), or tennis partner. Aren’t we all marked by the company we keep? Candidates are simply on stage for the judging. While this might not seem fair, it’s just the way it is. And I must say, I’m okay with it. Spouses on the campaign trail offer us voters an insight into another facet of the candidate. To see a couple’s body language and demeanor around each other is very telling in understanding the whole candidate.

I happen to think it’s quite endearing to see Barack and Michelle Obama giggle together at an inside joke to poke fun at each other. They laugh easily together and are not shy to steal a kiss. They hold hands as if they were newlyweds, and it doesn’t seem like a stiff gesture for the cameras. Their love and mutual admiration for each other are palpable, which I find rounds out the candidate I voted for and will vote for again. Michelle is simply one part of the equation that makes me see a more complete picture of the man beside her.

Newt Gingrich’s spousal troubles have cast him in a most unattractive shade of limelight. His interactions with his current wife (number three) do not share the same undertones of the Obama marriage we see presented to us by the media. There is a certain coldness and discomfort about Callista Gingrich, which is largely due to the onslaught of media attention and scrutiny that comes with a presidential bid. Their interactions seem choreographed and stiff, making Gingrich the candidate seem disingenuous and scripted. The man’s got a tawdry past anyway, and all those exes are going to be put under fire.

Like it or not, spouses are fair game, and the rules are loose. I don’t support adding media hype to a race that is already teeming with irrelevant vitriol and destructive messages. What I’m saying is that a candidate’s spouse matters. He or she should represent the ideals and energy the candidate espouses. The public will glean a lot from their interactions together, and how a spouse reacts to the public is telling too. We as voters judge candidates by more than their stance on issues. We are consumers at heart, and consumers make irrational decisions based on emotion. We do this whether we're buying a car or voting for president. Emotions are certainly tied to our more cerebral senses, and how a candidate's spouse is positioned plays into that emotional decision making.

I joke that I would bring down my husband if he ran for office. I don’t have any juicy, bawdy skeletons clanking about in my closet, but I do have some unyielding opinions and a big mouth that could land him in hot water. Let's just say that my passion overrides my diplomacy at times. My actions and words would reflect on him because we are inextricably linked. What we say and do mark our own personal brands. We are measured by the company we keep; the measuring stick is just a whole lot rougher when the public holds it.

 

This post is part of a weekly conversation with our 5 Moms Matter 2012 political bloggers. Read the original question and find links to all their responses here: In a Presidential Election, Do Spouses Matter?


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