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Huma Abedin and wronged political wives: few options, hard choices

Scandal-tarred Rep. Anthony Weiner says he and his wife, Huma Abedin, will stay together. She has not spoken publicly. How political wives respond to wrongdoing may affect their husbands' political survival, some analysts say.

By Staff writer / June 10, 2011

In this Jan. 5 file photo, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) of New York and his wife, Huma Abedin, aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are pictured after a ceremonial swearing in of the 112th Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Washington

In most political sex scandals, there is a wronged wife, usually conveying a mixture of dignity and pain.

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Sometimes when the time comes for the admission of guilt, the wife is standing by her husband’s side. Sometimes she is nowhere to be seen. Sometimes the marriage survives, and sometimes it doesn’t. Ditto the husband’s career.

In the case of Huma Abedin, the woman married to Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner not even a year, the story has an added dimension. She is expecting their first child, a fact that came to light a few days after the New York congressman admitted to sending lewd photos of himself to women and carrying on long-distance, sexually charged relationships with them.

But in many other ways, Ms. Abedin is the classic political wife, “caught between a rock and a hard place,” says Myra Gutin, a communications professor and expert on first ladies at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. “There’s the whole issue of being supportive of your spouse, a la Hillary Clinton in '98, standing by her man. Then there’s the heinousness of whatever your spouse has done, and how to address that in private.”

Abedin did not stand dutifully by her husband at his tearful press conference in New York on Monday. Though reportedly in the city, she chose to stay out of the spotlight. But by many accounts, that is not to be read as a sign that she is anything less than committed to her marriage. Representative Weiner said on Monday that he and Abedin love each other and intend to stay together.

Abedin has no more formidable a source for advice to turn to than Secretary of State Clinton, whom she has known since her days as a White House intern in 1996 and with whom she has a close relationship. Abedin is now an aide to Clinton at the State Department, and is accompanying her on a weeklong trip to Africa. Last July, former President Clinton performed Weiner and Abedin’s wedding.

Ironies aside, Abedin’s role in the Weiner saga is quiet but powerful. If he manages to survive the scandal, despite the calls from within his own party to resign and a looming ethics investigation, he may well have her to thank.

Political analysts suggest that in some cases where a wronged political wife displays solidarity with her husband, that has helped him maintain some level of public support and political viability. Ex-President Clinton is Exhibit A. So is Sen. David Vitter (R) of Louisiana, who was caught in 2007 on a prostitution ring’s client list. Senator Vitter’s wife stuck with him, and he was reelected last November. (Vitter, too, can probably thank the passage of time and an electorate accustomed to scandal.)

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