Santa Fe, N.M., has its share of hangouts for the megarich. The Guadalajara Grill, a strip-mall cafe decorated with balloons in the shape of beer bottles, isn't one of them. But places like that are part of the territory if your husband is running for President. That is how Teresa Heinz Kerry, conservatively estimated to be worth $500 million or so, happened to find herself there last Friday afternoon, inhaling the heavy aroma of frying tortillas and trying to persuade a mixed group of 30 Democrats, including some undecideds and former Deanites, to vote for her husband. Nearly two hours into it, she had just about wrapped up when a latecomer arrived. Not wanting to miss a single potential supporter, Teresa took Francesca Lobato aside and started all over again, spending an additional half an hour answering her questions about education, taxes and health care. By the time Teresa was finished, she had converted even restaurant owner Pedro Solis, who was waiting tables and running the cash register.
Although Teresa has made countless campaign stops like this--having twice been married to lanky, blue-blooded, Yale-educated Senators named John--very little about her fits the stereotype of the political wife. Not even Hillary Clinton strayed so far from the dutiful, adoring Stepford spouse as Teresa. She has the independence that comes with a personal fortune and one of the nation's biggest philanthropies, a life story that sounds like a screenplay and a bluntness that could never be scripted.
As dogged and earnest as she is when she is campaigning for Kerry on her own, Teresa (pronounced Tuh-ray-za), 65, does not function nearly so well as a prop. Onstage beside her husband during yet another recitation of his stump speech, she stands with her wavy hair falling over her eyes, looking preoccupied or, worse, bored. Only recently did she begin using Kerry's last name, switch her party registration from Republican and quit referring to the late Senator Heinz in the present tense as "my husband." She still has a tendency to volunteer what another political spouse might lie about--her Botox shots, her prenuptial agreement, what she would do if she ever caught her husband cheating and the fact that Kerry was in the bathroom when he found out he had won the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
All of which is why voters don't quite know what to make of her. To some, she brings a badly needed dose of authenticity and passion to a candidate who struggles to convey both. "I don't understand Kerry, but I'm nuts about her, because she talks about health care and children's issues," says Eileen Waterman, 57, a nurse in Albuquerque, N.M. To others, she embodies everything that doesn't work about Kerry. Baer Woodrum, who runs a Shoney's in Aiken, S.C., says he can't imagine Kerry doing well in this Tuesday's primary, in part because "his wife, I hear she's really ..."--he pauses to find a polite word--"Northeastern."