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Poll Mates : The Other Half Can Make a Whole Lot of Difference

March 03, 1988|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Candidate's spouse, 1968: A wife and mother whose main task is to keep the home fires burning, to smile in pictures, at the side of, and slightly behind, the candidate. Perhaps she engages in charity work. She surely trusts reporters not to write about any marriage or family problems.

Welcome to election year, 1988, where a candidate's spouse is likely to be a worker juggling family and career; who can, and sometimes does, speak on the issues; who may be a man, and who, this year, thanks to Gary Hart and his relationship with actress-model Donna Rice, should no longer expect that skeletons will remain in the family closet.

"If there's something, be prepared to talk about it, or not talk about it, and be prepared to pay the price either way," is the way Orange County political consultant David Vaporean counsels prospective candidate couples.

At a recent Washington workshop for Republican candidates for the House of Representatives, Sam Richardson, communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said he cautioned spouses not to be surprised when a reporter asks: "Did Lee Hart do the right thing? Have you betrayed your husband? Has he betrayed you?"

He warned spouses to have answers (other than "it's none of your business") to questions into any addictions in the family, prison records or credit history.

"If they don't have answers, they shouldn't be out in the public eye," he said.

In Orange County, the spouses of politicians who are stepping down or hoping to move up play a full spectrum of roles, from reception line companion to luncheon speaker substitute. Here, the highest-ranking officials and most promising candidates are Republicans whose spouses--even the youngest and most active--speak highly of the intertwined priorities of God and country and traditional family values.

Claire Rosenberg, wife of Republican congressional candidate Nathan Rosenberg, is a 1974 Harvard graduate and a former budget examiner in the Executive Office of the President. She speaks fluent Spanish.

She has foregone office work to raise the couple's three children, all under the age of 5. At the same time, she is president of the Young Republicans, serves on the alumni committee of the Harvard Club of Orange County and raises funds for drug and child-abuse programs.

Her main role as a candidate's spouse is to "make sure everything works at home," she said. "It sounds not of the '80s, but it's keeping the home fires burning in such a way so he's got that solid foundation of love . . . so there aren't crises that would take his attention away."

She encountered public scrutiny in 1986 during her husband's unsuccessful campaign (also for the 40th Congressional District seat), in which their links to the motivational seminars known as est or The Forum became an issue.

Werner Erhard, est's founder, is Rosenberg's older brother, "and we love him," she said. Claire, who attended est seminars before meeting Nathan, continues to attend workshops while Nathan, a management consultant, leads programs in leadership, money and accomplishment through the San Francisco-based Werner Erhard and Associates, she said.

Patty Baker, a working mother of two children under the age of 5, said she and her husband, David, an Irvine City Council member running for the same congressional seat Rosenberg is seeking, have discussed how to handle public scrutiny. She said they decided that while some parts of their private lives will be public, others will not.

"It's important to keep a life separate from the public . . . for our own well-being," she said. "We don't talk about our personal lives. It comes up with city council (races) and it's better if we keep it to ourselves."

Baker's priorities are husband, children and her job as regional staff assistant for a life insurance company. "Obviously, if we move to Washington, I would give up my job, and that's all right," she said. "I try not to think about it now. I think it worries my boss."

What hasn't changed is the spouse's primary role--unquestioned loyalty and support--according to Ken Khachigian, Ronald Reagan's former chief speech writer and now a San Clemente lawyer and political consultant.

"People don't understand really, how extraordinary (campaign) pressures are," he said. "It's extreme.

"I think, despite the fact that we're in a modern era, when it comes down to the last days of a campaign and you get nervous and stressed and everything else, there's no greater role, male or female, than that of the one unabashedly, unquestionably loyal person in the entourage who always thinks the candidate is a hero," said Khachigian, who campaigned with Richard Nixon and Reagan.

"One thing I learned from Richard Nixon is how presidents and candidates constantly need a lift. They spend so much of their time (getting) banged around, and questioned harshly under great stress."

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