Liz Cox Barrett

The Teresa Factor

Outspoken. Wealthy. Powerful.

These are the adjectives de rigeur in any news profile of the 65-year-old wife of Senator John Kerry, as one press outlet after another this spring weighs in on the momentous question: Teresa Heinz Kerry, burden or asset?

Heinz Kerry is hardly the first recipient of this kind of attention. Virtually every auditioning First Lady in recent decades has been the focus of this media-manufactured debate. During the 1992 presidential campaign, the media made hay over the so-called "Hillary Factor," as opponents of Bill Clinton waxed eloquent about the perils of admitting an independent, successful woman with an activist bent into the White House's East Wing.

This year, it is Heinz Kerry's turn.

As a prominent and successful woman, she's the kind of political wife that draws heightened scrutiny during a political campaign. "It happened to Geraldine Ferraro's husband, to Hillary Clinton, to Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife," says Cliff Shannon, the former chief-of-staff for Senator John Heinz. It may explain why Laura Bush got off relatively easy. She recently told USA Today, "I don't think I got as much attention when we ran last time as [Heinz Kerry] has." And she's right. The last two women to vie for first spouse, Bush and Tipper Gore, had both long since left their careers -- as a librarian and a photojournalist, respectively -- by the time they hit the campaign trail in 2000.

No current career, one less stone for political opponents to unturn.

Hillary Clinton's liberal activism was the focus of Republican attacks in 1992; this year, it is Heinz Kerry's philanthropic work. She is the chair of the Howard Heinz Endowment and the Heinz Family Philanthropies, and a board member of the Vira I. Heinz Endowment, reportedly overseeing assets of over one billion dollars.

Leading the attempts to give her the "Hillary treatment" thus far is the Capital Research Center (CRC), a conservative, Washington-based organization that studies the spending of nonprofits. Grant Oliphant, who served as Senator John Heinz's press secretary and is now executive director of the Heinz Endowments, says that the CRC has "aggressively tried to drum up interest in the notion it would be a conflict of interest to be an active philanthropist and also be First Lady."

In April, CRC published a report titled "The Heinz Foundations and The Kerry Campaign" which concluded ominously:

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