The candidates’ other halves

Before saying “I do” to any of the GOP presidential candidates, it’s helpful to look at the person who’s already made that commitment — the contender’s spouse.

Whether they make their spouse look more human, serve as counselor-in-chief or shape the candidate’s faith, the role of a spouse can be controversial — like Hillary Clinton — or more traditional — like Laura Bush.

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The four Republican front-runners — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman — each has a spouse who’s shaped and contributed to the candidate’s life and image.

Ann Davies Romney 

Raised Episcopalian, she met Mitt Romney as a child, began dating him as a teenager and informally promised to marry him after his senior prom. Although she’s been involved with a number of charitable works, she’s primarily worked as a mother, rearing their five boys.

In 1998, Anne Romney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. But through both mainstream and alternative therapies, she’s remained remarkably healthy, with only minor physical limitations. 

On ABC’s “The View,” she joked about the sometimes incongruous relationship between a brutal campaign for president and her multiple sclerosis: “I’ve learned how to manage my disease …. and the things that are important — healthy diet … not having stress. Well, those things are very easy to do in a campaign.”

Her role in shaping her husband’s public image has become clearer this cycle as she’s worked to make the famously stiff former governor look far more human. She told NBC’s “Today Show” last month that his aristocratic aura was primarily a media creation, lamenting that “people don’t see him as the casual guy he is. Most of the time his hair really is messed up.”

She’s overseen another sartorial tweak for her husband — skinny jeans. The Los Angeles Times noted Mitt Romney has occasionally taken to wearing skinny jeans from GAP, at Ann Romney’s direction.

Mary Anderson Pawlenty

She’s smoking hot, and the reason I can say that is because Tim Pawlenty himself has said it publicly — repeatedly. Borrowing a line from “Talladega Nights,” he told a group of voters in Iowa: “I want to thank the Lord for my smoking-hot wife.”

For her part, Mary Pawlenty didn’t mind at all, telling ECM Publishers: “I don’t know a woman alive who wouldn’t love to have her husband refer to her as his ‘red-hot smokin’ wife.’ ”

She met the former governor while the two attended the University of Minnesota Law School. After graduation, she practiced law in Texas, married Tim Pawlenty soon thereafter, and was then appointed as a county judge in Minnesota. She’s currently involved in legal and nonprofit work.

She recently told Christian Broadcasting Network that she was immediately smitten by the former governor: “I thought he had this incredible voice, and I thought, ‘Who is this guy?’ So I was wild about him right away.”

She also plays a humanizing role, describing Tim Pawlenty as calm and funny — two traits that those close to Pawlenty often vouch for, but that he’s had difficulty exhibiting on the trail.

But she’s also had a deeper influence on her husband. Mary Pawlenty’s strong evangelicalism helped convert her husband from his Catholic faith to her Christian denomination — Tim Pawlenty’s credibility among evangelicals was on display in a National Association of Evangelicals poll last week that found him the overwhelming choice of the nation’s top evangelical leaders. 

Marcus Bachmann

Marcus Bachmann has largely shunned the spotlight, instead focusing on helping rear their five children and 23 foster children. But just because he’s not in front of the cameras doesn’t mean he plays a backseat role in Michele Bachmann’s campaign.

In fact, the publicity-shy psychologist told the Minneapolis Star Tribune this month: “I’m her strategist,” an opinion shared by Bachmann’s former chief of staff, Ron Carey, who told the paper: “The only person she talks to as an insider is her husband, Marcus … and her son Lucas,” adding, “That’s really her brain trust.”

The Daily Beast’s David Graham suggests that Marcus Bachmann’s counseling practice might become the subject of controversy, thanks to its distinctly evangelical philosophies (he graduated from Pat Robertson’s Regent University, for example), but that doesn’t seem likely.

Evangelicalism holds strong sway in Republican primaries, and the media, which often scoff at everyday religiosity, often find themselves surprised at just how deeply religious many voters remain.

Mary Kaye Huntsman

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She was born in Florida but, as a teenager, moved to Utah, where she met Jon Huntsman as they worked in a Marie Callender Pie Shop. Kaye, an Episcopalian, converted to Mormonism and married Jon in 1983. 

Despite her move west, she retains significant ties in Florida, which is one of the reasons her husband chose to base his presidential campaign out of the state. 

Obviously, the state holds huge electoral importance. Jon Huntsman told CNN the Interstate 4 corridor running from Tampa to Daytona will be “critically part of our strategy.”

Mary Huntsman has been relentlessly supportive of her husband’s presidential bid, and Time magazine’s Mark Halperin recently raved that her political gifts “rival her husband’s.” 

In the end, political scientist and author Brendan Nyhan put it best when he said “people vote for the candidates; not their spouses.” 

But those spouses can dramatically shape those candidates.

Heinze, the founder of GOP12.com, is a member of staff at The Hill.