THE BLOG
06/22/2007 01:09 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

My Husband, the African-American Woman

In February 2006, my friend Jackie Cassara and I were having dinner in Cleveland when a waitress came up to me and said, "Ms. Schultz, I'm sorry to bother you, but did you know that Fox News is saying your husband is Shur-ROD Brown, and that he's a woman?"

"That explains so much," Jackie said, shaking her head.

I threw a cherry tomato at her and thanked the waitress for the update.

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh had also weighed in on Ohio's Senate race with his usual brand of wisdom. Paul Hackett had dropped out, Limbaugh said, because the Democratic big-wigs wanted Sherrod - which he also pronounced "Shur-ROD - who was African-American.

Reporters, talk show hosts and bloggers were having a lot of fun with all this. So, when I gave a speech the following day to about 150 women, I thought it was best to come clean.

"Well, as you all know by now, Rush Limbaugh said my husband is African-American."

Laughter, mixed with a few gasps by those who only listen to public radio.

"And Fox News said he is a woman."

More laughter, now mixed with much shaking of heads.

"So, you see, I'm even more liberal than you thought. I'm actually married to an African-American woman."

Oh, we hooted and hollered over that one. Nothing like a room full of rowdy women to clear your head.

I may have been making jokes, but our new campaign manager, John Ryan, was all business.

John called a mandatory meeting for all staff.

"I want you there, too, if you can make it," he said in a phone call to my cell. "Sherrod has to be in Washington, but I want everyone to understand how serious these ground rules are, and your being there will drive it home."

"Ah, yes, Frau Schultz, that will scare them."

"Connie."

"I'll be there."

It would be one of only three times I would show up at the headquarters during the campaign, bloggers' claims notwithstanding. ("She's running everything!" one blogger declared. This came on the heels of Sherrod telling The Plain Dealer that his wife was a chief strategist. Like that's not true in every healthy marriage.)

At the meeting, John asked everyone to introduce themselves and invited a variety of staffers to speak before he laid down the ground rules for the campaign.

"For a lot of people, you're the closest they'll ever come to meeting Sherrod," John said. "Remember that. When you're out there talking to people, when you're in here answering the phones, whenever you open your mouth on behalf of the campaign, you represent Sherrod Brown. Remember who he's fighting for, and live up to that promise every single day."

I looked around the room at all the young faces, many of which I was still trying to name, and wondered what brought them to this place, in this time, for this candidate. I hoped they were there for all the right reasons - including the 11 million people of Ohio who deserved better than what they were getting from their government..

As it turned out, almost to a person, that's exactly why the staff was there.

***

From May, through the rest of the campaign, I wore the one and only campaign button that read, "Connie Schultz Supports Sherrod Brown." In case anyone wondered who I was planning to vote for, I guess.

Some days, though, if I was honest with at least myself, the button I wore should have read, "Connie Schultz Has Really Had It With Sherrod Brown."

Not Sherrod Brown the husband. He was still cute and cuddly with enough passion for justice to give Moses a run for his shekels. What I was sick of was the merchandising of Sherrod Brown.

A big part of a campaign's field work involves branding and marketing the candidate, as if he were a new can of Pringles. Supporters could order Sherrod mugs, Sherrod key rings, Sherrod tote bags, Sherrod yard signs, Sherrod pins, even their very own Sherrod mouse pad, simply by clicking on SherrodStuff.com. After more than 30 years in elected office, this struck Sherrod as a perfectly normal thing to happen with one's name. I, on the other hand, began to feel as if I were married to Cher.

And then there were the Sherrod Brown t-shirts. Political activists and groupies love t-shirts, and it was a bit disorienting the first time I watched young women with Sherrod's name stretched across their bosoms wave their pens and yell, "Sign my T-shirt! Sign my t-shirt!" It's not that they were a threat - watching Sherrod attempt to sign their backs without touching any part of them bordered on a Monty Python skit - but the whole notion of Sherrod mania was so far removed from the down-to-earth guy I knew, the one who saved airplane napkins because he hated to waste and pinned his socks together before throwing them in the laundry so they'd remain wedded right through the tumble dry.

I have to admit, I was initially excited when a staff person handed me my Sherrod pin, personalized. Oh, my. My very own, one-of-a-kind button singling me out as Queen Groupie. I imagined the staff brainstorming over pizza and beer late at night, wondering what they could do to recognize the tireless devotion of the tiresome wife. Maybe they were even thinking, Hey, you know? The least we could do is give her a special pin.

That's what I imagined, but the bubbles of my initial effervescence started popping as soon as I realized everyone on staff had his or her own one-of-a-kind button, courtesy of the marketing company hoping for a contract. Steve Lieber supported Sherrod Brown. So did Melissa Wideman, and John Hagner, and dozens of other staffers who now had their very own, one-of-a-kind Sherrod pin.

"Everyone has this button," I whined to Sherrod late one night as he rummaged through the fridge for a snack.

"Everyone is wearing a button saying 'Connie Schultz Supports Sherrod Brown?'"

I stared at him, drumming my fingers on the counter.

OK, so my button wasn't so special. But for a whole five minutes or so, I did feel unique. That sheen dimmed after a man in Lucas County pointed to the button and said, "Who's Connie Schultz?"

"That's me," I said, smiling as the creases in his brow deepened to ravines.

"Should I know you?" he said.

"I'm Sherrod's wife."

He stared at the button for a moment. "You don't have the same name."

"Well. Right. We married only two years ago."

He chewed that one over for a second. "Well, what are you waiting for?"

Ah, the name game. Once I started appearing alone on the campaign trail I had to figure out a way to introduce myself. That was harder than it sounds, particularly in the southern part of the state where most people hadn't even heard of Sherrod.

This realization scared me, even though Sherrod had tried to prepare me. "Most of those people won't even know who I am," he said.

"How can that be? You were secretary of state for two terms."

"In the '80s," he said. "And nobody knew who the secretary of state was before Ken Blackwell."

It turned out I had my work cut out for me.

At first, I'd thrust out my hand and chirp, "Hi, I'm Connie Schultz. I'm Sherrod Brown's wife," but too many people thought I'd just said Sherrod Schultz. The power of alliteration. Even if they heard it right, older men tended to wrinkle their noses and say, "If you're his wife, why isn't your name Brown?"

So then I tried saying, "I'm Sherrod Brown's wife, Connie." People were friendly enough, but too often they smiled and said, "Well, hi, there Sharon, it's nice to meet you."

"No, I'm Connie. His name is Sherrod."

"Sharon?"

"No, Sherrod."

"What kind of name is that?"

I tried just once explaining that. "It's a family name. His mother's from Georgia."

"Georgia? Then why's he running here?"

I kept trying.

"Hi, I'm Connie, and my husband is Sherrod Brown."

"Who?"

"Sherrod. Sherrod Brown."

I'd point to my campaign pin. "That's him, and he's running for the Senate." I had to tinker with that, too, adding "United States" before the Senate because too many people thought I meant the Ohio Senate. But at least they were willing to take a brochure.

And you thought all I had to worry about was my weight, my hair, my make-up, my identity and my clothes.

Excerpted from ...AND HIS LOVELY WIFE by Connie Schultz. Copyright © 2007 by Connie Schultz. Reprinted by arrangement with The Random House Publishing Group.