Forget polite sensibilities. Many women along the Democratic campaign trail are telling Teresa Heinz Kerry to keep speaking her mind.
To them, the sassy, gabby wife of presidential candidate John Kerry is a key part of the package they want to put in the White House.
These women don’t care that Heinz Kerry doesn’t always follow the etiquette rules for potential first ladies. Like when she tells an editor to “shove it” or when she tells Republican hecklers that they want “four more years of hell.”
Dawn Davis of Muscatine, Iowa, excitedly greeted Heinz Kerry as the tour came through her home state Wednesday. Davis says she isn’t ashamed to acknowledge that she’s been known to tell people to shove it and go to hell. Just thinking about all the criticism of Heinz Kerry was enough to get her going.
“Women should not feel that they should kowtow to anyone else’s option,” Davis said in a rapid-fire rant. “I told her, you keep speaking your mind and don’t let them change you. They just criticize her because they don’t have anything else to hang it on. And that’s the truth.”
Heinz Kerry’s opinions have opened her husband to criticism. After Kerry joined his wife in responding to the hecklers by calling them Bush’s “goons,” the Republican National Committee put out a press release headlined, “Kerry’s Positive Campaign? Goons Taking America To Hell.”
First lady understands
First lady Laura Bush said that even though she’s not likely to respond in kind to hecklers or reporters who make her angry, she can understand why Heinz Kerry does. “It’s not easy when your husband runs for president,” Bush said Tuesday night on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Heinz Kerry told a rally in Hannibal on Wednesday night that growing up in the African dictatorship of Mozambique has made her value her right to speak out as part of the democratic process.
“We have to get to a point in our story of America where we don’t have to fight for the things that are ours, which is our voices,” Heinz Kerry said. “Women have been an intrinsic and powerful part of the history of this country and it is time to listen to their wisdom.”
A portion of the American public is still trying to figure out what to make of Heinz Kerry. About four in 10 view her favorably, three in 10 have an unfavorable opinion and 27 percent said they haven’t decided how they feel about her, according to CNN-USA Today-Gallup polling.
The number who hold an unfavorable opinion of Heinz Kerry has increased from 19 percent in early July to 31 percent in a recent survey. Two-thirds view first lady Laura Bush in a favorable light while 12 percent view her unfavorably.
Wealth and power
In her adult life, Heinz Kerry has become a powerful woman accustomed to having the leverage to speak her mind. She is the head of the $1.2 billion Heinz Foundation and has a personal fortune totaling hundreds of millions to more than $1 billion, depending on who is estimating.
Heinz Kerry usually campaigns on her own so that she and her husband can double the ground they cover in the campaign. This week, she’s been by her husband’s side as he tours the Midwest by bus.
“Here in Wisconsin, we appreciate women with strong opinions,” Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin said as she introduced Heinz Kerry to an uproar of thunderous applause and hollering from female voices at an event in Beloit.
The crowd response was even louder than it was when her husband was introduced.
Kerry almost always introduces his wife by applauding her for saying what she thinks. And that includes when she’s speaking to him.
When he suggested at the Beloit event that Heinz Kerry translate a question that was posed to her in her native tongue of Portuguese, she fired back, “Hello? I didn’t get paid to be an interpreter here today.”
The crowd laughed and so did Heinz Kerry, before she obliged and translated.
The two went on to Monroe, Wis., where they greeted workers at the Joseph Huber Brewing Co. As Kerry approached employee Lisa Mahlkuch for a handshake, she looked right past him and asked, “Where’s Teresa?” Kerry pointed behind him and Mahlkuch started waving excitedly, dropping the hand of the presidential nominee without so much as another glance at him.
“I supported whatever you say!” Mahlkuch said as Heinz Kerry approached.
Asked later if she has a little of the same sass, Mahlkuch says, “I’m the only woman working with 31 men. What do you think?”
While in Monroe, Kerry and Heinz Kerry also visited Baumgartner’s Cheese Tavern, where Heinz Kerry walked around the store with a Limburger cheese sandwich with raw onions and mustard on rye. She waved the stinky sandwich in the face of everyone around her.
“This is how I’m going to get some privacy on the bus,” she said as people recoiled with scrunched-up noses.
Heinz Kerry explained that she doesn’t like cheese unless it stinks. “Cheese that doesn’t taste is just empty calories,” she said.
Her cheese knowledge impressed Bruce Schuman and Leanne Wuthrich, a married couple from nearby Broadhead who frequent the tavern. But Heinz Kerry’s knowledge of cheese isn’t going to make Schuman vote for her husband.
“A lot of people like cheese,” he said.