CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Singer Joan Jett and comedian Janeane Garofalo joined Howard Dean on Sunday evening for a high-spirited campaign rally, but the big draw of the day was another woman who's less well-known: his wife.
Judith Steinberg Dean, an internist who runs her own practice in Shelbourne, Vt., spoke for fewer than five minutes at two rallies during a surprise visit to Iowa. But her brief foray onto the political stage was something of a coming-out event because, until now, she has shunned campaigning with her husband as he seeks the presidency.
Her unexpected appearance was such a draw that the 30-member media corps covering the former Vermont governor's campaign huddled outside on an airport tarmac for 15 minutes in below-freezing temperatures just to catch a glimpse of his elusive spouse.
As she came to the stage with her husband for a 1,400-person rally at West High School in Davenport, the crowd erupted in a chant of "Judy! Judy! Judy!" Beaming, she thanked Iowans for welcoming Howard Dean to their state and introduced herself.
"For those who might be wondering, my name is Judy Dean," she said, blushing as the audience roared its approval.
Her decision to stay out of the limelight was a departure from the role the spouses of candidates usually play, and has begun to generate debate as her husband's profile has grown -- and as the Democratic race has grown increasingly tighter. Voters have asked Howard Dean when they will get to see more of her, and reporters have pressed him about why she does not make appearances.
But the candidate, who met his wife when they were both medical students in New York, has been steadfast in his refusal to ask his wife to join him regularly on the stump.
"Her goal in life is to be a good doctor and a good mom, and I think that is a pretty good goal," Dean said recently. "I do not intend to drag her around because I think I need her as a prop on the campaign trail."
Some experts believe a spouse's presence, no matter how minimal, can serve to humanize a candidate beyond his policies and rhetoric.
"Americans develop some perception on the candidates based on his spouse and his family," said Myra Gutin, a professor of communication at Rider University in New Jersey. Presidential races are not "won or lost on that, but it's a measure of character," Gutin said.
Both Deans say she is busy with a full-time medical practice, as well as raising their 17-year-old son Paul. But the doctor and mother of two, who goes by Judith Steinberg professionally, has also made no secret of her lack of interest in performing duties often expected of a politician's spouse.
She appeared with Dean once -- during his June announcement in Burlington, Vt. -- and has granted just a handful of interviews.
Her absence from the campaign trail has been especially conspicuous as the other major Democratic candidates' spouses have crisscrossed Iowa for much of the last week in a cavalcade of appearances.
Rep. Dick Gephardt's wife, Jane, who just recovered from a bout with pneumonia, has been a campaign fixture for months. Jane Gephardt, who serves on the board of a facility for sick children's families, is quietly by her husband's side or in the audience at most campaign events.
Teresa Heinz Kerry, heiress to her late husband Sen. John Heinz' $600-million fortune, is more outspoken, and has made stops in Iowa apart from her husband -- as have John F. Kerry's daughters, stepchildren and siblings -- in addition to appearances on CNN and C-SPAN.
Heinz Kerry told CNN recently that she was a "little too old" for the strain of a campaign, and that Dean's publicity-shy wife intrigued her. She said she supported Judy Dean's decision to stick to her medical practice and avoid the public eye.
"I respect her for being who she is," Heinz Kerry said in a phone interview with The Times on Sunday.
Elizabeth Edwards, a lawyer, also loyally stumps for her husband, Sen. John Edwards, who has surged in Iowa polls recently.
"This is fine," Elizabeth Edwards said recently of the grind of national campaigning. "This is more restful than at home," she added, referring to the couple's two young children. Hadassah Lieberman and Gert Clark, wives of Sen. Joe Lieberman and retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, respectively, have also canvassed multiple states at campaign events independent of their husbands.
Judy Dean's trip to Iowa came after Ruth Harkin, the wife of Sen. Tom Harkin, suggested to her husband that Iowans would like to meet the candidate's wife, a Dean advisor said.
Tom Harkin, who endorsed Dean last week, passed that onto the candidate, who then told his wife about Ruth Harkin's advice. Judy Dean said she couldn't attend the caucus results tonight because she would miss patients, but readily agreed to a trip on Sunday, the advisor said.