The campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has long been challenged by the outspokenness of his wife, billionaire philanthropist Teresa Heinz Kerry.
In the last few days alone, she has told a reporter from a conservative newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, to "shove it," and taken a thinly veiled shot at President Bush's reading habits despite attempts by her husband's campaign to assume a more positive, less Bush-bashing tone for swing voters tuning in to the campaign for the first time this week.
Her unscripted and off-the-cuff remarks have raised eyebrows along the campaign tale, but it doesn't seem to bother her.
"You know I have been campaigning nine days a week almost since September and I haven't offended anybody. … I have campaigned unscripted from the heart, from the gut. And I will say again that is someone really treads unjustly on something I consider very important — my honor — and what I say with meaning, I defend myself," she told ABC News' Peter Jennings.
Heinz Kerry's "shove it" comment, while it drew some public support, was rough language for a would-be first lady. But Heinz Kerry defended her anger at the reporter. "When someone tries to trap you, and to put words that you have not said, which indicate not very nice meanings, you have a right to defend yourself. And I did and I think you would too," she told Jennings.
Long History of Combative Comments
Heinz Kerry's predilection for speaking her mind, regardless of the consequences, has apparently been long held. In a 1976 newspaper interview, Heinz Kerry — then the wife of Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., who died in a 1991 plane crash — had some rather unkind comments about Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Democratic Party, and the women's movement — all three of which have been key to her current husband's success.
In the Jan. 13, 1976, interview with the Boston Herald American (now the Boston Herald), Heinz Kerry said she didn't trust President Richard Nixon but added, "Ted Kennedy I don't trust either."
She went on to say that she knew "some couples who stay together only for politics. If Ted Kennedy holds on to that marriage just for the Catholic vote, as some people say he does, then I think he's a perfect bastard."
Kennedy's 22-year marriage to Joan Kennedy ended in 1981. He married Victoria Reggie in 1992.
The Kerry campaign insisted there is no animosity between Kennedy and Heinz Kerry.
"John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry and Senator and Mrs. Kennedy have a genuine friendship that's grown stronger and closer through the years. They each share an abiding commitment for public service and building a stronger America," the Kerry campaign said in a statement.
"Teresa Heinz Kerry is a mother, wife and philanthropist who has given back in so many ways," the statement said. "It's unfortunate that the Republicans are attacking John Kerry's wife about a quote from the early 1970s. You'd think that with the challenges our nation's facing they could find something better to talk about."
A spokesman for Sen. Kennedy said: "Over the years, Senator and Mrs. Kennedy and John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry have developed a deep friendship and a strong mutual respect. A 30-year-old quote dug up by the Republican attack machine — made long before they became friends — is irrelevant."
Kennedy has been of particular importance to Kerry for a number of reasons. When Kerry's campaign was struggling in 2003, the senior senator from Massachusetts allowed Kerry, the commonwealth's junior senator, to hire away the women who are now Kerry's campaign manager and communications director.
Mary Beth Cahill, Kennedy's chief of staff, is now Kerry's campaign manager. Stephanie Cutter, who served as Kennedy's communications director, now serves in that post for Kerry.
Kennedy also took an active role in Kerry's campaign when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean surged in the early Democratic primary polls last winter. He bounced from site to site in Iowa, hoping to woo liberals into Kerry's camp.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who endorsed Dean at the time, later laughed, "My guy was doing fine until Kennedy showed up."
Kennedy is also credited (or blamed) with leading the charge to bring the convention to Boston.
In the Boston Herald American interview, conducted by reporter Myra MacPherson, who later wrote for The Washington Post, Heinz Kerry's animus was not limited to Kennedy. The story also notes that in the interview, "[S]he also attacked machine politics — 'The Democratic machine in this country is putrid.' "
In an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters that aired on 20/20 in May, Heinz Kerry defended her outspokenness by implying a certain chauvinism in anyone who took umbrage with her remarks.
"A lot of people are not used to having a dame, a lady or something have opinions," she said.
But in the 1976 interview with the Boston Herald American, she also took on the women's movement. "I really have some anger in me right now," she said. "I think the women's movement has got to reverse itself on the motherhood thing — it's important and necessary that a mother stay home and be a mother for the first few years of a baby's life."
Kerry: ‘People Like Honesty’
Asked in January 2004, about his wife's quick tongue, Kerry told ABC News' Good Morning America he's "not going to worry about it. She's my wife. She is who she is. I love her for her outspokenness, and I think it's kind of charming and honest, and I think people like honesty."
But in a recent interview with CBS' 60 Minutes, Kerry's running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, joked that he was concerned about Heinz Kerry's propensity to say whatever is on her mind. "Now don't tell everything," he admonished her.
"This is the one we have to worry about telling everything," Edwards said to CBS News' Lesley Stahl.
"I know," replied Stahl. "That's why I'm interviewing her."
Edwards may have a better handle on how Heinz Kerry's candor is playing with the public.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, Heinz Kerry — even while not well-known — had double Laura Bush's unfavorable rating, with 26 percent saying they had an unfavorable view of Heinz Kerry, as opposed to 12 percent for Bush.
Heinz Kerry will seemingly take on any subject, whether serious ("Iraq has made terrorism worse, not better," she has repeatedly said) or frivolous, like about her husband's body. "He's too skinny," she told Walters.
"He should gain weight on all his body … about 20 pounds."
Politically Active, Confrontational
Her outspokenness has sometimes been for a cause. While married to Sen. Heinz in the 1980s, she was an activist against South Africa's apartheid, the nuclear arms race, and for human rights for Soviet Jews.
In 1982, Sen. Jeremiah Denton, R-Ala., charged that some of the advisory groups to Peace Links, a women's group against the nuclear arms race Heinz Kerry was involved with, are "Soviet-controlled or openly sympathetic with and advocates for communist foreign policy objectives.''
In a press conference, the congressional wives active in the group, including Heinz Kerry, defended themselves against the charges.
Arguing that they were merely concerned moms acting on behalf of their kids' fears of nuclear holocaust, Heinz Kerry said: "Kids trust their moms. They have a feeling their moms are in this [organization] reading about it, thinking about it, talking to Santa Claus about it and asking the president about it. If moms are involved, it's all right.''
At a State Department luncheon in 1987, Heinz Kerry politely confronted the first lady of the Soviet Union, Raisa Gorbachev, about human rights, causing something of a stir.
Heinz Kerry, then co-chairwoman of the Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry, asked Raisa Gorbachev whether the United States and the Soviet Union could work together on problems like American homelessness and Soviet human rights. Heinz Kerry frequently spoke out on behalf of Soviet Jews who were denied permission to leave the Soviet Union, visiting some in Moscow in 1986.
But Gorbachev responded defensively. "I'm a philosophy teacher. What did you study, Mrs. Heinz?"
''Political science and literature," the Heinz Kerry replied, according to an account in The New York Times.
"At university?" Gorbachev asked.
"Yes, in Geneva," Heinz Kerry responded. ''And graduate school as well."
In a later interview, Heinz Kerry said she had "hoped not to embarrass" Gorbachev, "but to engage her. I felt that her answer — 'What did you study?' — was a defensive type of a beginning. I was sad that I worked so hard not to offend, and not to be threatening, and somehow didn't get any fish."
But in more recent years she doesn't seem to be working "so hard not to offend and not be threatening." During this campaign, she has raised eyebrows by calling Vice President Dick Cheney "unpatriotic" for avoiding service in the Vietnam War, and talking openly about getting Botox injections to make her look younger.
ABC News' Barbara Walters, Claire Shipman, and Mary E. Harris contributed to this report.