Senator's Wife Finds Herself at Center of Storm

Brave faces mask inner turmoil for wives of scandal-plagued politicians.

January 8, 2009, 1:11 AM

Aug. 30, 2007 — -- Literally and figuratively, Suzanne Craig, wife of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, stood by her man as he spoke to reporters Tuesday, denying that he is gay and saying that he mistakenly pleaded guilty to charges that he had propositioned an undercover police officer for sex in an airport men's room.

Holding her husband's hand as he approached the podium, Suzanne Craig, wearing large sunglasses, silently stood next to the Republican senator as he read a prepared statement. The scene echoed a tableau the American public has seen countless times before — the scandal-plagued politician and his stoically supportive spouse.

Exactly what took place between the senator and Sgt. Dave Karsnia in the Minneapolis airport in June may never be known for sure. Nor can anyone outside of Larry and Suzanne Craig know exactly how their marriage has weathered 25 years of allegations that he has furtively engaged in sex with other men.

Recent scandals, however, have given the public a pretty good sense of what Suzanne Craig now faces. Tuesday's appearance was the beginning of what observers — including Dina McGreevey, the ex-wife of gay former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey — say will be a very difficult time.

"Why would you have your wife hauled out before the media when you're sitting there explaining your latest indiscretion? Because a picture is worth 1,000 words," Cathy Allen, spokeswoman for the American Association of Political Consultants, told

"If you see a guy standing next to his wife, it offers some explanation that he might be telling the truth. It means 'how can he be gay? He's got a wife.' … Usually, there is an assumption that if your wife can forgive you, then the world can forgive you," she said.

Since news of the arrest was made known, the public has yet to hear from Suzanne Craig, the mother of three children the senator adopted after their marriage in 1983. Tuesday, the Idaho Statesman published a recently conducted interview in which the Craigs were confronted with statements from a source who claimed to have had oral sex with the senator in Washington's Union Station.

"Suzanne Craig's eyes reddened and filled with tears as she listened. After her husband's denial, she said, 'I'm incensed that you would even consider such a piece of trash as a credible source,'" the Statesman reported.

Sex scandals are nothing new to American politics. They're not even anything new this summer. In July, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., held a news conference in which he admitted to soliciting the services of the so-called "D.C. madam" Deborah Jeane Palfrey. His wife, Wendy, dutifully stood with him as he apologized to her and his constituents.

Before the scandal broke, Wendy Vitter famously admonished Hillary Clinton for her decision to remain married to then-President Clinton after he admitted having sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Commenting on the Clinton scandal, Wendy Vitter told the media in 2000, "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary. If he [Vitter] does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me."

Before deciding to stand by the president, the current New York senator had denied she would do any such thing during her husband's first run for office in 1992 amid allegations that he had an affair with Gennifer Flowers.

"I'm not some little woman, standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette," she told CBS's "60 Minutes."

The Vitters, like the Clintons, remain married.

One political spouse who left her husband after a sex scandal was Dina McGreevey, former first lady of New Jersey.

After four years of marriage and allegations of a blackmail plot to out him, Jim McGreevey announced he is gay and stepped down as governor of New Jersey in 2004.

Dutifully, Dina McGreevey stood at his side at that momentous news conference.

McGreevey told that it was her decision to stand with her husband during his announcement because she believed it was her job as a faithful wife.

"Contrary to what has been reported, I made up my own mind to be there," McGreevey told "I had done nothing wrong. He was my husband and you can't just flip a switch and decide you don't love him anymore. He married me for political gains. My feelings were real. His marriage was a hoax; mine was not," she said.

McGreevey said she did not know Suzanne Craig and cautioned against judging the couple too quickly.

"I certainly don't know what the truth is in this case and I'm sure in the days to come we'll learn what happened. I watched her on TV and could see the pain in her face. … I just felt like 'here I am all over again standing next to my husband.'"

McGreevey said the coming days will be difficult for the Idaho senator's wife.

"I couldn't step out my front door. I was constantly being followed by reporters and photographers. All I wanted to do was go out and buy diapers for my daughter and I couldn't because I knew my picture would wind up on the front page of the papers. … Mrs. Craig needs her privacy right now. This is going to be a difficult time for her. With the added component of media attention, it will be too much to bear."

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