Brian Blanco for The Boston Globe
None of the best-known potential Republican presidential contenders has yet to formally declare his candidacy, but when they do, it's clear it'll be a two-fer.
Mitt Romney says his wife, Ann, has been the one egging him on to mount a second White House campaign.
Tim Pawlenty doesn't issue a press release without mentioning his wife Mary's assent with the news.
Callista Gingrich was in the foreground of the photograph her husband, Newt, posted online when he announced he was exploring the possibility of a campaign.
And Haley Barbour repeatedly invoked his wife of nearly 40 years, Marsha, as he courted gun owners, grandparents, and other potential supporters during a recent two-day swing through New Hampshire.
He also underscored her specific concerns about a campaign today when he decided against a race, saying he didn't have the "absolute fire in the belly" to forge ahead with a campaign.
It's all part of an effort to humanize the men who would be president, and court the women they'll need to get elected.
In Gingrich's case, it's also an effort to address head-on a challenge to his candidacy: the fact that Callista is not his first wife, but his third, a potential sticking point with social conservatives.
To Joyce Schuck, it may also mark a subtle shift in the role of the political wife one she embraces.
Shuck's husband, Steve, ran for governor of Colorado in the 1980s, and the experience prompted her to write a 1991 book on the subject, "Political Wives, Veiled Lives."
She said: "When you’re in politics as the political spouse, you have to conform to a role, and that role has generally been and still is traditional, in that the spouse takes a subordinate position. Now, maybe, it's turning into more of a joint venture, so to speak."
That was the case in 2008, when Alaska Governor Sarah Palin became the Republicans' vice presidential nominee, illuminating her political partnership with "first dude" Todd Palin.
Another prospective female presidential candidate in 2012, US Representative Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, speaks often of her husband, Marcus, and their five children, but he has largely remained in the background. He runs their Christian counseling practice back home.
The prominence of a spouse in presidential politics has waxed and waned through the years.
The apex, of course, may have been Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, not only become governor of New York but president of the United States. Her works before she met him, during their life together, and at the United Nations and elsewhere after his death, established her as a political force in her own right.
Yet when she died in 1962, the first lady was Jacqueline Kennedy, known more as a mother and social and fashion trendsetter. She was more of a traditional political spouse, supportive but not independent of her husband, despite him famously noting her starpower during their 1961 visit to France by saying, " I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris."
(Amazing fact: Jackie Kennedy was just 31 when she became first lady.)
More recently, Hillary Rodham Clinton was pilloried in the 1990s when, as first lady, she led a failed health care overhaul effort after declaring, as a campaign spouse, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life."
Many took that as a dig at the more traditional first lady at that time, Barbara Bush.
Her daughter-in-law, Laura Bush, fit more of the traditional model during her eight years in the White House, and Michelle Obama has largely adopted that role after campaign critics began to brand her as militant and independent.
Yet the Princeton-educated lawyer has also tried to maintain her own identity, leading the "Let's Move" anti-obesity campaign and working with Jill Biden, a college teacher staffers always called "doctor" in reference to her doctorate, on a campaign to support military families.
Against that tableau, the current candidates and their spouses are establishing the standard for 2012.
On a personal level, Romney is inseparable from his wife, whom he courted when she was 15, entrusted to his father during his two-year Mormon mission to France, and married upon his return.
He carried her home-baked granola as he traveled during the 2008 campaign, and beamed whenever she was around.
Ann Romney largely stayed out of the public spotlight during her husband's term as governor of Massachusetts, after what she considered unflattering media portrayals during his 1994 Senate and 2002 gubernatorial campaigns.
More recently, though, she has geared up for another run, and Romney has described her as more committed to a second campaign than even him.
"I don't have a 100-percent answer, ready to go," he said on CNN in February when asked if he were going to run again. "My wife thinks I should run. She's absolutely committed. She's saying, 'You gotta run, you gotta have somebody who understands the world of the economy, small business, who can create jobs.' She's convinced I've gotta run. But I have to look more broadly and say, 'All right, do I have the team to do this?'"
Pawlenty, meanwhile, has elevated his wife to something more than political spouse. The former Minnesota governor has made her an object of personal desire.
“I’m very thankful for my red-hot smoking wife, the first lady of Minnesota,” he told an Iowa audience last year.
The laughter only grew as Mary Pawlenty responded, “Who, when they’re turning 50, doesn’t like to be called a `red-hot smoking wife'?”
Pawlenty has since toned things down, but his wife's prominence in his campaign is underscored in almost every press release he issues. On April 14, it was one announcing Jon Lerner as pollster for his presidential exploratory committee.
“Mary and I are proud to add a fellow Minnesotan to the team," he declared.
The Gingriches face the challenge of explaining their relationship to prospective supporters, especially Christian conservatives who form a powerful bloc in early voting Iowa and South Carolina.
In 2007, Newt Gingrich admitted he was having an affair with Callista Bisek, then a congressional aide more than 20 years younger than him, while he was leading the House impeachment effort against President Clinton in 1998. He said his motivation was not personal or hypocritical, but rooted in allegations a sitting president had committed perjury.
Gingrich married Bisek in 2000, shortly after he was divorced from his second wife. Today Callista Gingrich is president of Gingrich Productions, which produces historical and public policy documentaries.
And Barbour peppered his New Hampshire appearances with references to his wife, Mississippi first lady Marsha Barbour.
He told a crowd at a Bow house party about how they were going to celebrate their 40th anniversary in December, and his wife's assessment that it would be better to have grandchildren before children, so enjoyable were kids you can hand back to their parents when the time comes.
He also courted gun owners by noting his wife is one of them.
"My wife likes to hunt," the governor said in Manchester. "One thing we can do together."
Yet Marsha Barbour attracted attention herself in a recent interview, when she lamented the strain a campaign could put on her and her family.
"It horrifies me. It's a very overwhelming," she told WLOX-TV, the CNN affiliate in Biloxi, Miss., during an interview.
"It's been a lot to be first lady of the state of Mississippi, and this would be 50 times bigger," she said. "It's a huge sacrifice for a family to make."
Marsha Barbour said she was wary about a 10-year commitment two for a campaign, and eight years in office for a two-term president during "the last part of our productive lives."
She said she was trusting the decision to her husband and God.
"That's a commitment that I am praying about," she said. "And if God and Haley decide to do it, I'm sure God will give me strength to be a good partner."
On Monday afternoon, Haley Barbour issued a press release that sounded as if it were written by his wife.
"A candidate for president today is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else," the governor said. "His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required."
Marsha Barbour's lament underscores part of what Schuck sees as the challenge of being a political spouse, be it a first lady or a "first dude."
"It was a very exciting time," she recalled of her husband's two campaigns, "with all these possibilities in mind, but in reality, it's very grueling. It’s 18-hour days. You have no time for your friends. You have no time for yourself."
More fundamentally, Schuck said, a "traditional" political spouse ends up surrendering their own identity, as she found in the research for her book.
“It was like all the world's a stage and everything is image and it's all about how to present yourself," she said. "Many of the women I interviewed said they never had a problem, but they also felt they created this image and then became that image."
Schuck said the challenge was especially hard for her, a woman who set aside her personal ambitions to raise her three children and then resumed college just before her husband asked if he could run for public office.
"Somebody has to, besides Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the only exception to fitting the role of the political wife, somebody has to show the courage to expand the possibilities for political women, and then they can define the role themselves," said Schuck.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.