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Sunday, May 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
First-lady factor becomes issue
By William Douglas
"The best reason for four more years is to make sure that Laura is the first lady for four more years," Bush said. "I'm really proud of Laura. She is a great role model. She is steady, a calming influence when the nation needs calm."
Bush campaign officials say they are using a popular figure whose appeal crosses party lines. But several political analysts think there's another reason: to draw a sharp contrast with Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Sen. John Kerry.
The Massachusetts senator's foes are gearing up to portray Heinz Kerry as everything Laura Bush is not: an abrasive, opinionated, foreign-born, environmental radical who would wield power in a Kerry presidency through the hundreds of millions of dollars her philanthropic trust gives to programs and causes.
Heinz Kerry and those who know her say that image bears no resemblance to reality.
Conservatives praise Laura Bush, 57, for being the anti-Hillary Rodham Clinton. They portray her as a demure "traditional" first lady who stands by her man and sticks to promoting safe causes such as literacy instead of wading into sensitive issues.
"It's big on talk radio; she's an issue for sure," Floyd Brown said of Heinz Kerry. He's the executive director of Young America's Foundation and a board member of Citizens United, two conservative groups.
"The contrast between her and Mrs. Bush is dramatic. I would say (Heinz Kerry) might be the Achilles' heel for Senator John Kerry. She is not the nicest person in the world. She makes Hillary look like a teddy bear," Brown said.
Born in Mozambique and the daughter of a Portuguese doctor, Heinz Kerry has been described by detractors as an aggressive woman with expensive homes and a private jet who tends to speak before thinking.
Not very Laura Bush, according to Gary Bauer, a former GOP presidential candidate and head of American Values, a conservative research center.
"Inevitably, there will be a contrast made in the media, and the first lady is likely to win that competition," Bauer said. "She (Laura Bush) reminds Americans of themselves: someone they can talk to between the back fence or at a cookout, versus a senator's wife associated with a great fortune and a more urbane style a tough, opinionated lady."
Heinz Kerry, 65, considers such characterizations misrepresentations of who she is and what she does. Kerry campaign officials, who have been trying to present her to American voters through TV interviews and magazine articles, say such assertions about her are made by people who don't know her.
"I am a real person. You know?" Heinz Kerry said in an interview with ABC's "20/20." "I may not be what everybody would like to see, but it's real, for whatever it takes."
John Kerry bristled recently at the notion that his wife, who has talked bluntly about her Botox injections and prenuptial agreement, could be a liability.
"If they want to attack her, they're going to have to go through me," Kerry said in a television interview. "I'll be the first to defend anything she does. I think they're foolhardy to do it, personally, because I think that she's so down to earth and so straightforward."
Diane Walker, a longtime Heinz Kerry friend and Time magazine photographer who has accompanied her on campaign jaunts, calls Heinz Kerry a breath of fresh air.
"She's a tremendous asset to the campaign because she is extremely bright and extremely honest," Walker said. "The reason I think Republicans are talking about her is because she is a great asset."
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