The presidential race has zoomed into high gear this week–and not just because John Kerry picked smooth-talking John Edwards as his running mate. Currently on newsstands, in the July 13 issue of Family Circle, is the Election 2004 Cookie Cook-off, with recipes supplied by the presidential candidates’ wives. Readers are encouraged to bake a batch of Laura Bush’s Oatmeal-Chocolate Chunks or Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Pumpkin Spice Cookies and then vote for their favorite. In the past three elections the contest’s cookie queen has ended up as First Lady.
The bake-off started in 1992 after Hillary Clinton’s dismissive comment on Sixty Minutes that she could have “stayed home and baked cookies” infuriated stay-at-home cookie-baking moms everywhere. Shrewd Hillary proved she wasn’t really anti-cookie when her oatmeal-chocolate chips bested Barbara Bush’s more traditional chocolate-chip entry. Four years later, Hillary used the same recipe to crush Elizabeth Dole’s pecan rolls. In 2000, Laura’s Cowboy Cookies easily lassoed Tipper’s Ginger Snaps. Personally, this time around, I think Laura is playing it safe. Her oatmeal-chocolate chunks are more than a little reminiscent of Hillary’s two-time winners.
Hillary just may be hitting the cookie jar this week for a little much-needed solace. Most former First Ladies’ books sell a lot better than their husbands’, but Bill’s long-winded tome is far outpacing hers. I also imagine she never expected her bland Senate colleague John Edwards, who would have trouble being reelected in his own state, to turn out to be such a canny competitor. Especially since he is also younger, glibber, and a mite prettier than she. Another minor annoyance: Christopher Anderson’s dishy tell-all American Evita has just been published. The London Daily Mail is excerpting the book and promotes it as “a major new biography of Hillary [that] reveals her as a husband-beater, adulteress and ruthless political-bully.” And that was the blurb for just the first installment.
In truth, the most interesting character in this year’s race remains The Spice Girl herself, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who the Los Angeles Times last week noted is probably one of the 20 richest women in America, with a fortune they estimate of over $3 billion. John Kerry told Newsweek for their very positive cover story on his wife, that she is “a whole lot of woman.” Indeed. Though in a famous Washington Post interview, when he was just considering his run, Kerry seemed less taken with her off-the-wall outspokenness. According to reporter Mark Leibovich , Kerry fidgeted and sighed when Teresa raised her voice, worked up a “full head of rage” and mimicked “Kerry having a Vietnam nightmare” just moments after he denied having any. That was around the time she agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to tack “Kerry” onto her name, which she told a reporter for Elle magazine was being done for purely political reasons. “Now…it’s going to be Teresa Heinz Kerry, but I don’t give a sh*t, you know?” she declared cheerfully. Since then Teresa (pronounced Te-RAY-zah) has cut the colorful language and tried to limit her spiciness, most of the time, to her recipes.
But what may be most interesting about Heinz Kerry is that she just might have entered that First Lady bake-off in 2000. Although she has said that she told her late husband John Heinz that he would run for president “over her dead body,” seeking his party’s endorsement for the nation’s highest office was probably always part of the very popular senator’s game plan. Political insiders note that if fate hadn’t intervened, Heinz might have left the Senate and run for governor of Pennsylvania. John Heinz was rich, handsome, with a well-known name and the rare political resume that could have included experience as a congressman, senator, and as a swing state’s chief executive. Perfectly positioned to run for–and probably win–the presidency in 2000. Teresa Heinz Kerry is the only woman in American history who might have been a Republican First Lady and instead is now working, she claims, “nine days” a week to become a Democratic one. Newsweek characterized her as “a serious tough-minded policy wonk” and she admits she will help “shape policy…especially at the dining room table.” One can only wonder since John Heinz did not live to fulfill his goals, how much his widow fueled John Kerry’s presidential ambition.
Nowadays the press tends to be admiring of Teresa, calling her “a sultry 65″ with a “soft, breathy voice” and “the look of Anne Bancroft in ‘The Graduate’.” Hard-headed reporters have taken to asking her to describe herself in three words; she told the Philadelphia Inquirer, she was “curious, creative and Socratic.” And she did it with a straight face. She has also said when her frankness has been criticized: “I’ve learned that some people can’t handle honesty.” But then she continues to remain uncharacteristically closemouthed about the extent of her vast assets and has refused to divulge her complete tax returns. In its only Teresa disclosure to date, the campaign reported she paid taxes of approximately 15 percent on an income of $5 million. Most people who earn over $200,000 pay more than double that, and Kerry wants to roll back the tax cuts for this group. But the super-wealthy have far more tax loopholes and far more astute money managers than even six-figure earners. Maybe the three words to best describe the campaign’s most unpredictable woman are simply “rich, richer, and richest.”
–Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.