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More MS news articles for October 2002

Governor's race: Tale of two spouses

Sunday, October 20, 2002
By John McElhenny
The Associated Press

It was one of the most poignant moments of the Oct. 1 gubernatorial debate, and a telling one for Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign: Asked to describe his toughest personal challenge, Romney described his wife Ann’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.

Ann Romney has been a prominent feature of her husband’s campaign, attending debates and appearing prominently in the campaign’s most talked about ad, in which she and Mitt talk tenderly about their courtship. Her photo appears a half-dozen times on the campaign Web site.

The same can hardly be said of Shannon O’Brien’s husband Emmet Hayes: O’Brien’s campaign Web site contains only one picture of Hayes in a family shot.

Where Ann Romney warrants her own 330-word biography on her husband’s Web site, Hayes’ name is mentioned twice on his wife’s Web site, including once in a newspaper article.

Some observers say the strategy is clear: Romney, the wealthy venture capitalist, needs to show off his wife to soften his image, while O’Brien, the Democratic treasurer and longtime state employee, needs to hide her husband, a former lawmaker and lobbyist, to avoid appearing too wedded to Beacon Hill.

“There’s equal opportunity to show off their spouses,” said Jerold Duquette, a political science professor from Springfield. “Obviously, Shannon doesn’t want to show off her ex-lobbyist, while Mitt wants to show off his housewife.”

Ann Romney has begun doing newspaper and television interviews, including a lengthy televised segment last week in which she talked about her disease.

Romney aides say Ann’s appearances on the campaign trail and in the television ad are nothing unusual. They point to a campaign ad in 1998 in which former Gov. Paul Cellucci and his wife, Jan, talked about their courtship.

Romney’s spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, said Ann Romney was filling the traditional role of political spouse. He said it was not an attempt to make him appear more of a family man or more appealing to woman voters.

“I don’t think it’s any different from any candidate except for Shannon O’Brien,” Fehrnstrom said. “It’s no wonder that Shannon O’Brien has kept Emmet Hayes hidden during this campaign.”

Romney, the former Winter Olympic chief, has campaigned as an outsider, pointing out that O’Brien has worked most of her career on Beacon Hill.

Hayes, whom O’Brien met while both were state representatives and who later became a lobbyist, was targeted by O’Brien’s opponents during the Democratic primary to reinforce that insider image. Romney’s campaign has also tried to use Hayes’ former job against O’Brien.

O’Brien’s spokesman, Adrian Durbin, said the campaign isn’t trying to hide Hayes from the media.

He has attended at least a half-dozen fund-raisers as well as events including an endorsement by the musician Don Henley in Concord and one by a group of black legislators in Roxbury, Durbin said.

Hayes hasn’t appeared in any campaign ads, Durbin said, but he has begun doing television and newspaper interviews, and confers with his wife as an informal campaign adviser several times per day.

There’s another factor, too: “He is the primary caretaker for their 3-year-old daughter, so by necessity he spends a lot of time with her,” Durbin said. Hayes also has a teenage daughter.

Ralph Whitehead, journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said it’s typical for a male candidate to highlight his wife to boost his credentials as a family man.

By contrast, female candidates – from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to Hillary Clinton during her U.S. Senate run in 2000 – often keep their husbands in the background for fear of being overshadowed, Whitehead said, though that attitude is slowly changing.

Portions © 2002, Telegraph Publishing Company