DES MOINES — Is your spouse an asset or a liability? Presidential contenders hope for the first and live in fear of the second.
With the Iowa caucuses, the first contests to determine which Republican and Democrat will face off for president in November, set for Thursday, most of the wives - and one prominent husband - are here now and on their best behavior. They're at the candidates' sides or making stops as surrogates in other locations. Here's a look at how many of them are coping.
Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Democrat John Edwards, helps and hurts. Voters respond to her intelligence and down-to-earth style, and her ordinary looks offset critiques of his vanity.
But her diagnosis last March with treatable but incurable cancer created some discomfort over her husband's decision to go on with the campaign - despite her insistence that it's what she wants. Part of her being in Iowa now, she said at a campaign stop in Vinton last Friday, is to show voters she's not near death.
"I think people actually need to see me, that I'm healthy," she said.
Rudy Giuliani's third wife, Judith, was not by his side as he shook hands over the weekend at his headquarters west of Des Moines before leaving Iowa and heading to New Hampshire, which votes next Tuesday. That was fine with Linda Monserrate, a school psychologist who stopped by. She's "about 80 percent" sure she'll caucus for the former New York mayor. What gives her pause, she said, is mostly the couple's earlier affair and the ugly public breakup of Giuliani's second marriage.
" I don't want his wife as first lady, the nature of her moving in on his previous marriage," Monserrate said. She doesn't hold Giuliani to the same standard. "Men are men, what can I say?"
Myra Gutin, a Rider University professor and author of "The President's Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century" said a candidate's spouse is not usually paramount in voters' minds as they consider whom to support, but it seeps into their overall impressions.
"It's part of the equation," Gutin said. "We look at spouses as a part of character. It is one of the parts of decision-making, and, who knows, maybe it's one of the things that swings the balance."
Voters don't require staid spouses. Betty Ford was one of the most popular first ladies, Gutin recalled, although Ford talked provocatively and openly about sex, was previously divorced and later faced her addiction to alcohol and pills. Her openness about the breast cancer surgery she faced weeks after President Ford's inauguration helped win fans. "Betty Ford was beloved almost from the start," Gutin said.
But spouses perceived as putting themselves ahead of the presidential campaign are rarely rewarded.
In 2004, some voters bristled when Democrat Howard Dean's wife, Judy Steinberg, a physician, decided to keep seeing her patients rather than campaign with him and suggested she'd do the same as first lady.
Wealthy and worldly, with a sharp tongue and a dark side, Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of that year's Democratic nominee John Kerry, often needed to be explained by his campaign.
Hillary Clinton's own comments about not standing by her man like Tammy Wynette made her a controversial spouse in 1992 even as she struggled over how to respond with dignity to allegations of her husband's marital infidelity.
But President Clinton - just "Bill" to many supporters of his wife's current presidential bid - is mostly considered a major boost to her campaign. His two terms provided her with the grounds to claim White House experience, while many voters' enduring affection for him or memories of the nation's strong pre-war economy during the Clinton years rub off on her.
He has made some gaffes - including a recent assertion that he'd always opposed the Iraq war, which wasn't true, but on net, he's a plus.
Dow Voss, a retired electrician from Iowa City, said Bill Clinton lost his support when he advocated NAFTA, and that carries over to Hillary Clinton's campaign. "That's the reason I wasn't inclined to support her in the first place," Voss said.
More common are voters like Arden Hargens, a retired meat-cutter and Hillary Clinton precinct captain in Aspinall. He wore a button that reads, "Miss Bill? Vote Hill!"
Michelle Obama has taken on an edgier role than most spouses in campaigning for her husband, Democrat Barack Obama. The outspoken hospital executive has made no bones about the fact that she's doing more than her share of raising their two daughters lately and has had to put her career on hold. But she says it's worth the sacrifices for the chance to shape the nation.
She both praises and teases her husband publicly in an effort to make him seem approachable to voters. She is part of a focused effort to sell Obama to African-American women, who are important in turning out the black vote. And on New Year's Eve, she sent out a fund-raising appeal nationwide.
The criticism Republican Mitt Romney has faced for flip-flopping on policy positions is offset in some supporters' minds by his enduring marriage to wife Ann through her fight against multiple sclerosis and their raising of five sons.
Comfortable in a supporting role, she talks about what kind of a husband he is and says nice things about the places she goes. She told a group in Altoona, "Mitt and I have been getting to know the goodness and the hearts of Iowans. It has changed all of us."
Because Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign has only recently surged, his wife, Janet, isn't as well known outside of Arkansas, where her husband was governor.
Her non-confrontational role so far in Iowa contrasts with reports of her time as governor's wife. A sportswoman, she was nicknamed "First Tomboy," and her failed run for state secretary of state in 2002 while her husband was governor showed a mean side. But she also has a sympathetic side as a one-time spinal cancer survivor who works for the American Red Cross and has raised three children.
Fred Thompson's wife Jeri, a former Republican National Committee spokeswoman more than two decades his junior, was caricatured early on as a trophy wife and had a reputation for being overbearing with campaign staff. She has tried to overcome both images, while juggling the challenges of parenting two young children and assisting the campaign. She planned to join her husband in Iowa from New Year's Eve through the caucuses.
Democrat Chris Dodd moved his wife, a former Export-Import Bank official, and their young children to Iowa this fall full time. So Jackie Dodd is always around to introduce her husband at rallies or give the campaign speech herself.
One night last week, she was greeting guests at the Des Moines home of a supporter, keeping them engaged until Dodd could finish an interview on MSNBC's Keith Olbermann show. Jackie Dodd stood in front the TV set, and for 15 minutes told stories about her husband and her family's move.
"We've been forced to find a pediatrician, and a plan to get haircuts," she said. "But I've been going shopping at Dahl's (grocery store), and if I'm lucky enough and have the time I go to Gateway Market. We have wonderful neighbors - many of them Republicans, but now they have Dodd signs."
(William Douglas in New Hampshire contributed to this report.)