As if on cue, the spouses of the Republican presidential candidates are stepping out on their own this month, a sure sign that the campaign has reached a new level. Ann Romney, wife of GOP frontrunner and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, held three separate events for her husband in Iowa last week, while Anita Perry, wife of Texas Governor Rick Perry, sat down with Parade magazine for her first extensive interview of the campaign.
So what do voters want to see in a candidate's better half? One thing is certain: The era of the Stepford political wife is over. In today's multi-cultural, multimedia world, authenticity and approachability are the new requirements for a successful campaign trail companion. Effective political spouses come in every shape and shade, and they're not all women anymore.
In fact, two of the most notable political spouses in recent memory are men. Todd Palin embodied the ideal of a hard-working, outdoorsy American in 2008, and his unscripted interviews only buoyed his wife, Sarah Palin's status as a political outsider. By contrast, another political spouse, Paul Pelosi, is the ultimate insider. A suave, millionaire investor who graciously supports Nancy Pelosi's career, Paul goes so far as to choose his wife's clothes for her when she is pressed for time.
But even without the cookie-cutter model, personal style and image still play huge roles in how voters perceive political spouses. This can mean intense pressure on the spouse, especially for those with little or no experience in the limelight.
At this stage in the campaign, body language and clothing speak volumes, especially for spouses who might not feel ready to take up the microphone quite yet. Style cues can help with this, offering them a way to express their unique identities and set them apart in a crowded field. Makeup and clothing that fit the occasion, plus hair that actually moves, are all part of a savvy political spouse's arsenal. But they can't make up for humor and self-assurance, which do far more to endear a person to voters than any hairdo can.
A few of the spouses of 2012 Republican presidential candidates make all this look easy, while others seem clueless. Click on the slideshow to learn who is truly connecting with voters, and for Livetweeting of all the style notes from the GOP debates, follow @FashionWhip.
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