• Politics

The New Republican Power Players in 2016: Wives (And One Husband)

11 minute read

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was making his way slowly down Main Street in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, held up by yet another fan who wanted a selfie along the parade’s route. The process was delaying the day in July, throwing the whole campaign off-schedule and making Christie’s aides nervous about making it to the next stop. Enter Mary Pat Christie, campaign’s all-purpose fixer. Her task for the day: be the antidote to any long-winded well-wisher or fat-fingered iPhone user.

“Hi, I’m Mary Pat,” she said with an outstretched hand, breaking into the conversation. She subtly grabbed her husband’s elbow and said quietly, “We’ve got to go.” She directed him to the next group of supporters in a way that didn’t offend the voter and got the job done.

Mary Pat Christie is just one of the examples of a politically savvy, deeply involved spouses who are having an impact on the Republicans’ crowded chase of the presidential nomination. Some more subtly than others, these women—and one man—are weighing in on policy, schedules, staff, tactics and strategies. Among them are two Wall Street executives (Mary Pat Christie and Heidi Cruz) who traded their jobs for campaign roles, two nurses (Anita Perry and Karen Santorum), an almost-PhD (Supriya Jindal) and a political consultant (Kelley Paul) who once counted a rival to her husband (Ted Cruz) as a client. Another (Frank Fiorina) left his job as a vice president at AT&T to support his wife’s business career and is a constant figure in her endeavors.

Gone are the days when voters considered it out of bounds when a wife troubled herself with politics or policy. In 1992, Bill and Hillary Clinton were on defense over the idea that she would have a policy role at the White House and a strategic role in the campaign. Now similar two-for-one offerings on the campaign trail are as common as not.

“We’re good partners,” Mary Pat Christie explained to TIME days later. “We have been our whole life. We’ve been married almost 30 years. No one knows each other better than we do.” It’s why, from time to time, she settles into the chair next to her husband when his advisers are ready to start a political briefing. And when he is looking to rake in Wall Street cash, Mary Pat Christie’s Rolodex is invaluable.

Even as Christie was declaring his intentions to run for President, he made a nod that Mary Pat was part of the deal. “Everyone thinks I’m the politician in the family. We did a coin flip when we got married. I called tails. Tails never fails so I’m the guy who ran,” Christie said. “But the politician just as good as me in the family is the woman that I met all those years ago at the University of Delaware.”

For sure, there are less politically involved spouses in the mix, too. Columba Bush, the wife of Jeb, clings to her privacy and insists she never talks policy with her husband. Marco Rubio’s wife, Jeanette, remains focused on raising four children at home in West Miami. Karen Santorum is a full-time caregiver to a daughter who requires near-constant medical attention because of a genetic disorder. “While she may be a great asset on a campaign, she is an indispensable asset at home,” former Sen. Rick Santorum says.

But this is hardly the field of quiet would-be First Ladies standing silently at heir husbands’ sides. If their lives are going to be upended for the unmatched challenge of running for the White House, they’re going to pitch in. Mary Pat left her job as a managing director and bond trader at Angelo Gordon to focus on the campaign. Heidi Cruz is on leave from her job as a managing director at financial giant Goldman Sachs, and has set up shop inside her husband’s campaign. (Heidi Cruz met Ted while working on George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2000.)

Similarly, Anita Perry and Janet Huckabee are among the closest political advisers to their spouses and have hired their own chiefs of staff to run their political operations at campaign headquarters. Kelley Paul often schedules campaign events of her own as her husband is tied up with his day job in the Senate. Paul’s advisers describe Kelley Paul, herself a successful political consultant and author, as their best advocate among female voters.

Tonette Walker is described as one of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s biggest boosters—and challengers when she disagrees with him, as she did when he came out forcefully against the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage. “I was torn,” she said in one interview, noting she is very close to a female cousin and her wife. Conservatives immediately criticized the Governor over his wife’s positions. “Someone with a leftist wife is going to have a hard time,” Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, tells TIME.

It’s a tough balancing act for these spouses, especially those putting their careers on hold to pitch in with their partners. “I’ll do as much as I can, as long as I can keep that balance with my children at home and life on the road,” said Mary Pat Christie, who chatted with former First Lady Barbara Bush about what to expect during a challenging campaign. It left her unfazed.

That doesn’t mean Mary Pat Christie is giving her husband a pass on what she sees as common courtesies. For example, she is dogging the Governor to remember names of aides and volunteers. “This work is not easy and it’s so important to show your appreciation for people,” Mary Pat Christie told her husband after he fumbled aides’ names. The next time, he remembered.

With reporting by Zeke Miller in Wolfeboro, N.H.

Columba Bush

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; Getty Images

Spouse: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush

Credentials: A graduate of the Instituto Antonia Mayllen in León, Mexico, the former Florida first lady was a stay-at-home mom, raising three children. She famously hates politics and prefers the arts to argument.

You should know: She installed Dalí and Kahlo at the governor’s mansion.

Candy Carson

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; AP

Spouse: Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson

Credentials: With degrees in music from Yale and management from Johns Hopkins, she has worked as a travel agent, realtor and violinist.

You should know: She and her husband founded the Carson Scholars Fund, which has given more than 6,700 grants.

Mary Pat Christie

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; Getty Images

Spouse: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Credentials: After graduating from the University of Delaware, where she succeeded the future governor as student-body president, she got an M.B.A. from Seton Hall and spent her career on a Wall Street bond-trading desk. She recently quit her managing-director job to focus on the campaign and has been spotted leading Christie around New Hampshire.

You should know: During the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, her offices were two blocks from the World Trade Center; she was unable to get in touch with her family for hours.

Heidi Cruz

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; AP

Spouse: Senator Ted Cruz of Texas

Credentials: A graduate of Claremont McKenna College, with graduate degrees in business from Solvay Brussels and Harvard, she worked in President George W. Bush’s Administration before joining Goldman Sachs. Now she keeps an office at her husband’s campaign headquarters and weighs in on strategy.

You should know: Heidi and Ted Cruz met while working together on the Bush campaign in 2000.

Frank Fiorina

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; Getty Images

Spouse: Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina

Credentials: After attending Penn Technical Institute, he started as a tow-truck driver but retired at age 48 as a vice president of AT&T. He was constantly at his wife’s side as a de facto bodyguard when she became CEO and remains a key part of her team.

You should know: He is willing to do anything he can for his wife, including taking a reporter with him to Costco to buy toilet paper in an effort to demonstrate that the family is not living lavishly.

Janet Huckabee

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; AP

Spouse: Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee

Credentials: After degrees from Ouachita Baptist and John Brown universities, she made her family the focus of her time, picking up jobs here and there as a substitute teacher, pharmacist assistant and construction manager. Later she served as the Texarkana PTA president and was the 2002 GOP nominee for Arkansas secretary of state.

You should know: As a young bride, she was diagnosed with spinal cancer. Her husband drove her every day for radiation therapy.

Supriya Jindal

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; Reuters

Spouse: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

Credentials: After chemical-engineering and business degrees from Tulane University, she has been working toward a doctoral degree in marketing at Louisiana State. Former employers include agricultural giant Monsanto and chemical firm Albemarle. She also runs a science-and-engineering-education foundation and often travels with her husband and three children on the campaign trail.

You should know: Bobby Jindal and the former Supriya Jolly knew each other in high school but did not start dating until almost a decade later.

Karen Kasich

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; Ohio's First Lady

Spouse: Ohio Governor John Kasich

Credentials: After graduating from Ohio State, she worked in health care marketing and PR. An avid runner, she avoids much involvement with her husband’s political races.

You should know: She bans phone calls in the house after 8:30 p.m.

Kelley Paul

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; AP

Spouse: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky

Credentials: After graduating from Rhodes College, she was working as a marketing manager for Sprint when she met her future husband. She later became a political consultant, counting Ted Cruz as a client until recently. Now she lends her hand as speechwriter, communications guru and manager of her husband’s sometimes cranky moods.

You should know: The Senator’s given name is Randal, and he went by Randy when he met his future wife. She shortened it to Rand.

Anita Perry

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; Getty Images

Spouse: Former Texas governor Rick Perry

Credentials: With nursing degrees from West Texas State University and the University of Texas at San Antonio, she spent most of her adult life as a nurse and public-health advocate. Her husband’s most important adviser, she coaxed him to run for the White House in 2012 and pushed him to try again this time.

You should know: She opposes abortion, but unlike her strictly pro-life husband, she has described it as a “woman’s right.”

Jeanette Rubio

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; Getty Images

Spouse: Senator Marco Rubio of Florida

Credentials: After graduating from Miami-Dade Community College, she became a Miami Dolphins cheerleader and a bank teller before landing a part-time job at a foundation run by one of Rubio’s most generous donors. Rubio says his wife’s biggest job during the campaign is being mom to their four children.

You should know: The high school sweethearts were engaged only after Rubio finished law school.

Karen Santorum

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; AP

Spouse: Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania

Credentials: With a nursing degree from Duquesne University and a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh, she was recruited by her husband to join his former law firm. After their first child was born, she decided to be a stay-at-home mom. Now she offers campaign advice that includes keeping him on message. A child with a genetic disorder keeps her home as a full-time caregiver.

You should know: She has written three books about her children and young people’s manners.

Melania Trump

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; Getty Images

Spouse: Real estate investor Donald Trump

Credentials: A graduate of the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, she was a model who has appeared on the cover of Vogue. Now she focuses on a jewelry line she sells on QVC and plays a minimal role in Trump’s political efforts.

You should know: She could make history as the first presidential spouse to appear in a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Tonette Walker

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME; Getty Images

Spouse: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Credentials: She spent two decades working for insurance companies and the American Diabetes Association before joining the American Lung Association as its fundraiser. Today, she is a force inside Walker’s political machine and a frequent surrogate, especially to female voters. When Walker considers his next moves, he often turns to her for a final gut check.

You should know: Scott Walker met Tonette at a karaoke night and later proposed to her at the same bar. Like her husband, she does not have a college degree.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com