Never mind the men who would be President – who wants to be First Lady?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As the Republican nomination race gathers pace, the spotlight is turning to the women behind the would-be candidates. David Usborne profiles those hoping to fill Michelle Obama's shoes

Ann Romney has a story about the day Mitt told her that nothing he had ever done matched her achievement in raising their five boys. She liked hearing it, she says simply, before quipping that when he becomes president she won't be able to compete any longer.

The drudgery of being a wife on the primary circuit cannot be overstated – all the smiling at speeches and jokes as if they were hearing them for the first time. Karen Santorum was against her husband running until she realised, as she recently revealed, it was "God's will". Mrs Romney was happy at first but has recently shown signs of impatience, particularly with us, the press. Only Carol Paul, wife of Ron Paul, is spared. She remains mostly at their Texas home.

Spouses are always more than ornaments to voters who are hungry to know them. They can quickly become an asset or a drag, or sometimes both. Even as First Lady, Michelle Obama still draws conflicting reviews. Does her strong character and competence make her indispensable partner to the President or a political liability?

In the current Republican primary season it was Team Romney that decided first that Ann was going to help while the Santorum and Newt Gingrich campaigns were more wary of rolling out their respective other halves.

Callista Gingrich, who turns 46 tomorrow, may have seemed especially problematic. She is the former House speaker's third wife and was his mistress for six years. And her helmet coiffure fascinates; they say she could ride on the wing of Air Force One at 40,000ft and return to earth without a hair out of place.

Wives matter too because of the female vote: more women vote in the primaries than men. In this regard, Mr Romney, who also frequently takes his sons on the road, each of whom could model for a preppy clothing brand, does fine. In Michigan last week, he beat Mr Santorum among women by five percentage points.

This statistic has not escaped advisers to Mr Santorum who for the first time on Tuesday night devoted much of his election night speech to the women in his life, including his mother and also Karen, who he said is "as strong as they get," noting that she quit her law practice to bring up their children.

For consolidating support among Christians, Karen is the perfect partner. When not on the road, she cares for their youngest, Bella, who has a genetic defect. But other details of their devotion might put some voters off. Most notoriously, when they lost another child, Gabriele, soon after birth, they slept with the dead infant between them in the hospital bed and then took him home so their other children could see him before releasing him to the morgue.

Karen Santorum used an interview with conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck last month to explain how she overcame her initial reticence to his running.

"God has big plans" for Rick, she revealed, adding that He "has us on a path. I do think that there's a lot more happening than what we're seeing."

Mr Gingrich, as far as this reporter can tell, is never to be found out on the trail without Callista. By every account, he remains in her thrall, sometimes to the frustration of his aides. She too was not keen on his running and allegedly threatened to dump him last summer when he considered cancelling a Mediterranean cruise to campaign. It did not help when it surfaced subsequently that Newt had a $500,000 (£300,000) line of credit with Tiffany's to keep her in pearls. Only in the past few weeks has Callista turned from mannequin to live human.

Aware that the candidate was polling disastrously among women, the Gingrich campaign finally decided it had nothing to lose allowing her to show off her ability actually to speak, beginning by introducing Newt at the CPAC conservative conference in Washington.

Born with Welsh roots – her grandfather, David Davies, was a coal miner and she has cousins rooting for her in Wales – Mrs Romney cuts not only an attractive figure at the stump but a courageous one too. Sometimes, but not often, Mitt mentions her challenges: she underwent a breast lumpectomy in 2008 and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, although the disease so far has not prevented her leading a normal life.

Recently there have been signs of testiness, however. Signalling she has had enough of the TV debates, she said recently that if there are any more she would do them, not Mitt. And last week she told one reporter she felt like "strangling" the press and wondered, we assume jokingly, about keeping certain reporters off the Romney bus.

It is a feistiness, even bossiness, we glimpsed also on primary night in Michigan. Introducing Mitt, she told everyone in the room to shut up while she went through the normal thank yous. "I am going to see if you are all going to behave and listen to this list without cheering in between – let's see if you can get this right," she said. Yes matron.

Suggested Topics
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
liveblogFollow the latest from the Bernabeu as Real Madrid play Bayern Munich
Arts & Entertainment
Paul Weller: 'I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting'
music
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
news
News
peopleThis time as he’s awarded the Freedom of Stirling and handed an honorary degree
Voices
voices Furore is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion, says Nigel Farage
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor Needed Nottingham/Derbyshire

£3360 - £16800 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Cover Supervisor requ...

English Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Urgently Required. En...

Supply teachers needed in Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are looking ...

Geography Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents