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CAMPAIGN 2000

Each With Same Goal, No. 2 Wives Couldn't Be More Different

October 22, 2000|MEGAN GARVEY and DANA CALVO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The two men vying for the vice presidency have each confessed the same suspicion: the possibility that their wives may be more popular than they are.

Joseph I. Lieberman and Dick Cheney may have developed the idea from the way crowds react: cheers, shouts, signs that read only "Hadassah" or "Lynne."

Day after day, each woman has hit the campaign trail with gusto, energetically working the rope lines, shaking hands with supporters who sometimes offer quick life stories, words of support and even intimate admissions of hopes and fears. But while the political duties may be similar, their styles are not.

With a soft voice and hands often clutched to her heart in appreciation of the crowd, Hadassah Lieberman, 52, seems more like everyone's girlfriend than a politician's wife. Then there is Lynne V. Cheney, 59, the Republican enforcer who can talk just as readily about Al Gore's alleged character failings as she does about her "grandbabies."

Their public personalities reflect the more private partnership each has forged with her political spouse.

Holding Hands in Public

The Liebermans, whose marriage 17 years ago was the second for both, have no hesitation about holding hands or embracing in public.

When Lieberman gave a speech last month that included the story of how Hadassah's parents emerged from Nazi concentration camps, he choked up with emotion. His wife stepped forward to rub his back, comforting him until he could continue.

Despite their closeness, the Liebermans often have been apart on the trail, with Hadassah addressing women's groups and lavishing praise on "my Joey," whom she introduced at the Democratic National Convention as "the love of my life."

The Cheneys, who have known each other since they were in junior high school in Casper, Wyo., and have been married for 36 years, are more likely to exchange pats on the back or the occasional cheek-to-cheek buss. They nearly always appear in tandem--although Lynne is now on a campaign tour with George W. Bush's wife, Laura, and his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush. When the Cheneys are together, her forthright speaking manner and ease on stage give a spark to her husband's low-key demeanor.

At 5 feet, 2 inches, she either uses a hand-held microphone and moves out from behind too-tall lecterns or steps onto a small wooden box that aides carry wherever she goes. Lynne Cheney, however, has no trouble getting her point across and admits that her days appearing on CNN's "Crossfire," the contentious-by-design political talk show, have carried over onto the stump.

Take the story she now tells at nearly every stop. After a local official gives the crowd the rundown on her resume (successful author, conservative consultant, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a doctorate in literature, mother, grandmother), she makes one addition.

"What he didn't tell you," she says, "is that I'm also the author of a book called 'Telling the Truth,' and don't you think I should send an autographed copy to the vice president?"

While her husband has seemed ill-at-ease on the attack, his wife delivers biting remarks with aplomb. She tells crowds that when they still had free time, their favorite movie to rent was "Love Story." But she doesn't stop with the reference to the film and novel Gore once said he had inspired.

"It was hard on us because we would just really get choked up when we got to the part where Al Gore invented the Internet," she says, as the crowd titters. "And then, of course, it just brought the hankies out of your pocket when you got to the part of some mix-up with prescription drugs between his mother-in-law and his dog."

Asked in an interview whether she ever has any hesitation about taking the offensive or being the center of attention, she said: "I was a baton twirler!"

(It's a skill she has vowed to display only if the Republican ticket wins and only then at the next Gridiron dinner, the annual roast for Beltway insiders.)

Hadassah Lieberman is also comfortable in the spotlight, although her role as political wife has been free of bare knuckles partisanship. The svelte blond, with a high forehead and slight widow's peak, is known for her stylish clothes in tangerine or turquoise hues. The glamour she projects led one aide to describe her appeal as "Jackie O."

And like the Kennedys--the first Roman Catholics to occupy the White House--the Liebermans, who are observant Jews, would break new religious ground if the Democratic ticket wins. Hadassah, however, has shied away from questions about the role of women in Orthodox Judaism. And when a reporter from a Jewish newspaper asked her what her husband thought of interfaith marriage, she barely suppressed her irritation.

"My husband is not a rabbi, and he's not a Talmudic scholar, and I've pointed that out to him on occasion," she said dryly.

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