Tuesday, October 12, 2004

SEATTLE — Teresa Heinz Kerry last week stuck to her health care stump speech, a mix of local and national statistics that several supporters said failed to produce the off-the-cuff remarks that they had hoped to hear.

After one event, disappointed supporters were heard saying, “Where was the Teresa spitfire?”

“Sometimes she puts her foot in her mouth, but that’s OK — she reminds me of people I know,” Mike Ceoffe, a 39-year-old father of four, said at an event featuring Mrs. Kerry at Local 249 Teamsters Temple in Pittsburgh. “Well, the upper-crust people I know. She ain’t driving a ‘72 Chevy Impala.”

Bonnie Karsten of Pittsburgh said she admires Mrs. Kerry for her outspokenness, an attribute lost in the scripted presentation.

Last week, Mrs. Kerry, the wife of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, took her husband’s health care plan to battleground states, campaigning from Pittsburgh to Tucson, Ariz. Crowds of people were turned away in Seattle, where a community-college stadium was filled with people hoping to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Kerry.

Mrs. Kerry, 66, sat next to unemployed single moms at health care forums and made funny faces at children. She chatted about the weather and the sports teams in whichever city she happened to be in, but she didn’t call anyone an “idiot” or confront any journalists.

The would-be first lady has generated headlines all year — telling a newspaper editor to “shove it” just before the Democratic National Convention, suggesting that children in hurricane-devastated regions should “run naked” while volunteers send supplies more vital than clothing and often using the word “idiot.”

Mrs. Kerry is as candid as Mr. Kerry, her husband of nine years, is cautious. She often reminds people that she doesn’t always follow the politically correct line, something supporters say is refreshing and warrants a comparison to Eleanor Roosevelt.

“I have ideas, oh, and I have opinions, too,” she says, to huge cheers at a Seattle rally. She has told reporters that she “can’t be phony.”

The mother of three, who has an estimated wealth of more than $500 million, reminds people that she is no different from any other “mom, wife and boss of the house,” saying she wants grandchildren like everyone else.

“Whether you are a neurosurgeon or a bricklayer, you still have to feed your kids and put them to bed at night,” Mrs. Kerry told supporters at a $30-per-plate fund-raising dinner in Greensburg, Pa.

She beams when she is introduced as “America’s next first lady,” but cringes when some mistakenly pronounce her name “Ter-ee-sa” instead of the preferred “Tuh-ray-za.”

She wears two rings — a band and a large stone which glints under lights set up at her campaign stops on her ring finger, but when she shakes hands after events, the large “rock,” as one woman called it, is often turned inside to reveal a second simple band. Around her neck, she wears a small diamond cross.

At her appearances, she holds the microphone close to her mouth and speaks softly. Audience members note that she seems calm and relaxed, sometimes cocking her head to the side and resting her chin on the microphone as if she is chatting with a girlfriend on the sofa instead of campaigning to get her husband into the nation’s top office.

She carries a binder filled with the names of local leaders and the details of her husband’s health care plan, but rarely needs to refer to it.

Working the rope line, Mrs. Kerry greets supporters and gives her autograph (a simple “Teresa”) while hearing their stories and letting them take pictures with her. Staffers get impatient, but she isn’t done until she’s shaken hands with the very last attendee.

“She is a person who listens,” said Missouri state Sen. Rita D. Days, a Democrat.

In St. Louis, Mrs. Kerry faced a tense moment after telling a crowd at a public-health center that the city had no more neurosurgeons. Actually, residents at the event told her, Belleville, Ill., across the Mississippi River, had just lost its last neurosurgeon. She argued that she’d been told by “higher-ups” that it was St. Louis, but they kept correcting her.

Finally, she admitted her error and blamed the person who’d passed on the information: “That lady should get her fingers smacked,” she said.

When speaking, Mrs. Kerry constantly uses her manicured right hand to brush her hair from her forehead, revealing a trendy yellow LiveStrong bracelet that many politicians — including Mr. Kerry — have taken to wearing these days.

Her late husband, Sen. John Heinz, a popular Pennsylvania Republican and heir to the Heinz food fortune, was killed in a plane crash in 1991. They were married for 25 years.

The widow was encouraged to run for her husband’s seat, but instead chose to continue his philanthropic work.

In Heinz territory, where the Pittsburgh history center, performance hall, stadium and even the burgers at a local restaurant bear the Heinz name, Mrs. Kerry mentions her late husband often and with affection. Elsewhere, she keeps the conversation on Mr. Kerry.

During her speeches, Mrs. Kerry talks about her upbringing and her father, who was a physician.

Born in Mozambique as Teresa Simoes-Ferreira, she tells people of her experience going to school in Johannesburg, where she “began to understand the ugly face of apartheid” and marched with friends in the late 1950s.

“I just stood for what I thought was human rights and civil rights,” she said. “I was taking a stand for principle.”

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