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Blunt and Influential, Kerry's Wife Is an X Factor

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  • Blunt and Influential, Kerry's Wife Is an X Factor

    In December 2002, when Senator John Kerry came home from his physical boasting about his low cholesterol, his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, stared at his screening results for prostate cancer and saw trouble where he had not.

    "He didn't know anything," she recalled. "He knew zero, zilch."

    But Ms. Heinz Kerry, a physician's daughter who peruses medical journals and toxicology articles and is intrigued by alternative medicine and Eastern philosophy, knew enough to have her husband's blood retested for C-reactive protein, a little-known indicator of potentially cancerous inflammation. Two days before Christmas, his doctor told Mr. Kerry that his wife's fears were well placed; he was in the very early stages of prostate cancer.

    Ms. Heinz Kerry may well have saved her husband's life. But politically she may be both an asset and a liability for his ambitions. While she is known as a highly intelligent and devoted spouse who looks after her husband, Ms. Heinz Kerry has a reputation as being offbeat if not a little odd, and even some Democratic strategists say that could complicate the Kerry campaign's efforts to make the Kerrys appealing to voters.

    On the campaign trail, she speaks in jarringly frank terms about dealing with grief and loss; she talks openly about distinctly un-Western modes of healing, which can leave her audiences as mystified as they are impressed.

    In a move that was reminiscent of how Hillary Rodham Clinton became a lightning rod for her husband, the Republican National Committee on Friday sent journalists an e-mail message quoting Ms. Heinz Kerry comparing her husband to a "good wine," adding, "You know, it takes time to mature, and then it gets really good and you can sip it."

    Paul Costello, who was the press secretary for Kitty Dukakis when her husband, Michael, was the Democratic nominee, warned that Republicans might continue to make an issue of Ms. Heinz Kerry.

    The campaign, Mr. Costello said, "is going to have a volume of negativity that's already accelerated, so one has to be very, very careful."

    "The one thing a spouse can't do on the campaign trail is to be a distraction," he said, "because it will be used against you. But within that you can still show that you have character and personality."

    Today, a year after surgery, Mr. Kerry tells audiences that he is cancer-free because he could afford the best medical care and because senators enjoy excellent health insurance. He seldom adds that his wife caught what all that good care might have missed.

    In fact, to hear it from Kerry campaign officials, Ms. Heinz Kerry, 65, has been the senator's secret weapon. Though his aides mainly play down her influence, she helps shape his policies and campaign strategy in ways large and small, a role that stands in sharp contrast to what America learned about her when she first stepped into the political limelight a year ago.

    At the time, there were juicy details about her Botox treatments and her prenuptial agreement, her Chanel shoes and her cashmere scarves. There was frequent mention of her inherited millions and the ketchup-red-and-white Gulfstream II — the most visible legacy of her 25-year marriage to Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania, who was killed in a plane crash in 1991.

    But there is a more unusual and, her admirers say, more authentic side to Ms. Heinz Kerry's public persona that stands in sharp contrast to that of her husband.

    Where Mr. Kerry, 60, is guarded and cautious, she is uninhibited, cursing in one of her five languages or musing aloud in accented English about why her husband of nearly nine years is so often called aloof. Where he appears stiff, she is spontaneous, dispensing unsolicited romantic advice to campaign workers and reporters. Where he can appear calculating, she comes across as guileless, trashing a profile of her in a major newspaper as a "dumb piece" by "a dumb person who wrote it."

    That is why, surprisingly, more than a year into the campaign that she initially opposed, some Democrats express concerns that Ms. Heinz Kerry's forthrightness and spontaneity could come back to haunt her husband as her remarks are put under the microscope of a general-election campaign. Ms. Heinz Kerry acknowledges the concerns, but — though friends describe her as being wounded by harsh coverage in the past — insists she can stand up to the scrutiny.

    "If I get hit, so I get hit," she said.

    What an America accustomed to a demure Laura Bush, and still divided over Mrs. Clinton, will think of Ms. Heinz Kerry's strongly held and freely shared views is an open question.


    Mr. G

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    Kah says its not fair to mention that person/
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