Suzanne Fields

Presidential campaigns are grueling, and the hedge-hopping airplanes, long bus rides and bad food make an endless ordeal; this week marked the 34th primary or caucus so far, with 19 to go before the primary season finally ends June 26 in Utah. She keeps her good humor, even when things go awry, and her physical stamina is the envy of others in the campaign much younger than she is.

She sits in on strategy meetings, but whatever suggestions she has are offered in private to her husband. She's careful about public expectations of what a candidate's wife should be, a mate neither too traditional nor too hip. Bill Clinton made trouble for himself two decades ago when he briefly touted Hillary as a "co-candidate," boasting that voters could "buy one and get one free." But when the Romneys split up on the rope line at campaign events, the bigger part of the crowd often surges toward her, not him.

Ann Romney, like others in the campaign, is always conscious of her health, the fact that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998 -- now in remission -- and the fact that she had a bout of a noninvasive form of breast cancer four years ago, which has not recurred.

She first assumed a prominent role in the campaign in December, when Newt Gingrich led her husband in the public-opinion polls for a week or two. Her mere presence was a not-so-subtle reminder of the 42-year Romney marriage and Mitt's abiding devotion to her through two serious illnesses, in sharp contrast to Newt's colorful succession of wives. She expects to continue as Mitt's chief advocate with female voters, a troublesome demographic.

The era of a candidate's spouse's being the mere "wife of" is now mercifully relegated to the past. She once told an interviewer that the first ladies she most admires are Mamie Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, but her star power makes her an effective advocate, not merely a wifely admirer. She has an instinct for knowing when to speak and when to hold her tongue. "Sometimes when I hear criticism of my husband, I want to come out of my seat and clock somebody," she once said. "But you learn to take a deep breath." And save the passion for later.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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