Candidates' wives: What will they bring to the 2012 election

While only the candidate will be on the ballot in November, voters cannot ignore their wives. But what do they bring to their husbands' presidential campaigns? And do they have favorable views?

Gerald Herbert/AP
Ann Romney greets reporters with her husband, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on his campaign plane in Columbus, Ohio.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
First lady Michelle Obama smiles at President Obama as they wait to receive British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha.

It has become a regular feature on the campaign trail. Ann Romney introduces her husband – and aims her message right at the gender gap.

"Women are angry" about the deficit, Mrs. Romney said in Schaumburg, Ill., after her husband's victory March 20 in the Illinois primary. "They're angry about the legacy we're going to leave our children and ... grandchildren, and I'm going to tell them something: I've got somebody here that can fix it."

Ask strategists from either party about the wife of the likely Repub­lican nominee, and you get a string of compliments.

"I like Ann Rom­ney a lot," says Demo­cratic pollster Margie Omero. "She's a great surrogate for Mitt. She connects with people in a way that he struggles to."

Kind of like Michelle Obama, in fact. "They both do a good job of adding context to their husbands," says Ms. Omero.

"Clearly, [Mitt Romney] seems more relaxed when he's with her, and she seems very comfortable talking about the economy and the budget," says Republican pollster Linda DiVall. "She helps remove some of the aloofness or remoteness of Mitt Romney."

Rick Santorum's wife, Karen, has also begun to speak up for her husband – particularly over his conservative attitudes about women and birth control.

"He's completely supportive of women," Mrs. Santorum said on CNN March 19. "He's surrounded by a lot of really strong women. Women have nothing to fear when it comes to contraceptives."

The public is still getting to know the GOP candidates' wives. Some 47 percent of Americans say they have no opinion of Mrs. Romney, and 42 percent have no opinion of Mrs. Santorum, according to a recent survey by Public Policy Polling. Both Ann Romney and Karen Santorum are viewed favorably by 31 percent of the public, but Mrs. Santorum has slightly higher negatives: 27 percent versus 22 percent negative for Mrs. Romney.

Newt Gingrich's wife, Callista, comes up short. Just 18 percent have a favorable opinion of the former House speaker's third wife, with 44 percent negative. Ron Paul's wife, Carol, was not included.

Mrs. Obama comes out on top at 54 percent favorable, 34 percent unfavorable. But as the sitting first lady, it's hardly a fair comparison.

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