A campaign stop in Arizona last August 9 offered an eerie glimpse of the couple who could be the next to occupy the White House. There was tall John Kerry, standing at the very edge of the Grand Canyon precipice, urging his reluctant spouse to join him. “Come on, darling,” he seemed to repeat, as he reached in vain for her hand. “No, I’m not going,” said an adamant Teresa Heinz Kerry, hiding behind at least one park ranger and clinging for dear life to her plastic water bottle. Of course, she explained it was her vertigo. But you could kind of tell she was not about to be forced into a version of Terry-Kerry.

The trauma left its mark. Hours later she was overheard crying “Hello, Nevada!” to a crowd of perplexed Arizonans.

Although John Kerry is running to become le president des Etats Unis and not le roi, he must be feeling a pang of sympathy with Louis XVI, another Gallic leader whose loose-lipped wife proved a distinct, if not lethal, liability to his political career. In fairness to Marie Antoinette, it must be noted that she didn’t actually say some of the damaging things attributed to her. For example, she never said, “Let them eat cake.” Those damning words were put in her mouth by Rousseau, the Paul Krugrnan of his day. On the other hand, Teresa Heinz Kerry did publicly disavow her own pumpkin spice cookie recipe to both the New York Times and National Public Radio.

Recipegate began when Laura Bush’s oatmeal-chocolate chunk cookies were beating the dough out of Teresa’s pumpkin spice cookies in Family Circle magazine’s quadrennial first lady cookie bake-off. This led Heinz Kerry to denounce the recipe that had been submitted in her name, claiming that a member of her staff “made it on purpose to give a nasty recipe.”

She insisted that somebody was trying to give her a pie in the face by submitting a recipe that neither she nor her chef had ever tried.

The average homemaker, confronted with such a problem, would simply shrug and say, “Quel dommage.”

She’d then repeat the sentiment in five or six languages, and that would be the end of it. But nothing is too small to irk Teresa, who turned the pumpkin spice fiasco into a news story, darkly hinting that a vast Servants Conspiracy was out to destroy her. Then again, she is well positioned to know what her staff thinks of her.

As of this writing, the irrepressible Teresa has been repressed, presumably by a campaign that realizes that, after the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Teresa is one headache it can do without. She has been in seclusion for several weeks. But, if we know our Teresa, she will eventually surface, climbing her way out of the Grand Canyon, or wherever the campaign has ditched her, to reclaim her rightful place in the spotlight.

The evolution of Teresa Heinz Kerry is one of the more curious in American political history — she our first potential Democratic first lady who might just as well have been a Republican first lady. She was married to Sen. John Heinz, a Republican from Pennsylvania and great-grandson of food magnate Howard Heinz. Heinz was killed in a plane crash in 1991. She inherited a fortune variously estimated as between $500,000 and $1 billion. A Los Angeles Times story put it at $3 billion.

As a philanthropist, Heinz Kerry has supported trendy left-wing causes, such as John Kerry. As head of the Heinz family’s philanthropic foundation, she’s poured around $4 million into the Tides Foundation, an umbrella organization for sundry far-left groups. She has also worked tirelessly to rebuild Pittsburgh in the image of Paris instead of Mozambique.

She met Kerry at an environmental rally in Brazil (and she still called herself a Republican?) and was smitten. Kerry was relatively penurious — who isn’t, compared to Teresa? — but he was quite the ladies man, and the ladies were invariably tony. Among his pre-Teresa girlfriends was Emma Gilbey, of the eponymous English gin firm and the sister of James “Squidgy” Gilbey — she’s now married to New York Times editor Bill Keller, in a stunning conflict of interest. There were actress Morgan Fairchild, actress and Yugoslav royalty descendent Catherine Oxenberg, and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. Maybe even Patti Davis. By Washington standards, John the Gaunt was glam and sexy. Taki, the jet-set chronicler, called out to Kerry one year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, “Senator, do you like to have sex in limousines?”

The limousine liberal shot Taki a dirty look. The jibe was based on inside gossip, Taki told the London Times.

Teresa and John married in 1995, in her house on Nantucket. His motto: Marry your heiress, and then get your marriage to the previous heiress, Julia Thorne of Philadelphia, annulled.

It was Teresa, a daily communicant in college days, who wanted the annulment. John Kerry was prepared to travel to Cambodia to get it done. As Republicans hummed “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Te-RAY-za?” Democrats tried to put a good Botox on the situation. They made a point of saying how “refreshing” Heinz Kerry is, noting how much better she is than those dull Republican wives who actually seem to want to help their husbands. Refreshing is code for: The-woman-is-bonkers-but-we’re-stuck-with-her.

Of course, nobody ever votes for a presidential candidate on the basis of who’d be the next first lady — at least, this was a safe assumption before the advent of the wacky heiress who has normal Americans wondering if they could endure another four years of First Lady Hell. Remember when we thought Comrade Hillary was a handful?

Teresa gets an almost reverent press now that Kerry is the candidate and the media can’t bear the idea of four more years of Bush. But the memorable first glimpse many of us had of Teresa was a devastating story in the Washington Post on June 2, 2002. It was by Mark Leibovich, written when Kerry was merely considering running. According to the story, Teresa — who still referred to Heinz as “my husband” — worked up a “full head of rage” and spoke of her loathing for Sen. Rick Santorum, who’d had the audacity to run for and win John Heinz’s old seat. Kerry looked on, fidgeting and helpless to silence her.

In another interview, with Elle magazine’s Lisa de Paulo, Teresa discussed prenup agreements (yes, they have one), her Botox treatments, and how she would “maim” a man who cheated on her. She also spoke of her recent decision to add Kerry to her name. “Now…it’s going to be Teresa Heinz Kerry, but I don’t give a s***?, you know?” she said. We know.

She has conveniently claimed to have switched parties because Republicans used what she regarded as harsh tactics to defeat triple amputee (and future Kerry envoy to Crawford) Max Cleland in 2002. “You know, that he was unpatriotic,” she told a reporter. Somebody obviously got her to shorten her previous reply, which included the rhetorical question, “Does he have to lose a fourth limb to be patriotic?”

This could be the first election in which the wife costs her husband enough votes to lose for the simple reason that many people can’t imagine putting up with her in the White House for four long years. They know it takes about five houses to live comfortably with Teresa, and we just can’t afford four more White Houses. Between us Know-Nothings, let’s just say that Teresa is too Euro for most Americans.

Like Marie Antoinette, who was Austrian, Teresa is an exotic, foreign-born wife whose wealth sets her apart. Trying to package Teresa for the hoi polloi, most of them admittedly Republicans, has called forth admirable creativity. Democrats have even tried to put her into various of their popular victim modes. I was on a show the other day with a Democrat who, in a discussion of Laura Bush, the almost perfect political wife, and Teresa, her polar opposite, lamely trotted out a meaningless factoid: Teresa had grown up in “a dictatorship.”

Well, yes, and Prince Philip was born on the kitchen table in Corfu. So? As the daughter of a Portuguese doctor in Mozambique, Teresa, one can safely assume, has been spared first-hand knowledge of gulags and suchlike. Still, you can’t blame them for trying. My other favorite is that Teresa is “an immigrant.” At least she really did find the streets paved with gold.

We Americans don’t dislike rich people, just shallow, conceited rich people who think we’re obligated to take their vacuous opinions as seriously as they do. While we don’t mind the rich-rich, we do mind the rude-rich, the ones who don’t bother to say howdy-do to us. I refer, by chance, to Mrs. H.K’s bizarre performance at the Democratic convention, surely the strangest speech by a “wife of” since Medea addressed motherhood issues or Lady Macbeth was a motivational speaker. It was weird from word one.

“Your father would be proud of you and your brothers. I love you and all our family,” she began, addressing her son Christopher, who had just introduced her. She was referring to John Heinz. It could not have been a great moment for John Kerry, who might have hoped his wife would speak of him that night. You just never know what the other guy’s life is like until you’ve ridden a mile on his $8,000 bicycle.

But she didn’t just ignore John Kerry — she ignored us. We know you love your family, but, hey, hi, Teresa over here! It’s America — and you don’t have to love us, but say hello. Speaking of Teresa and her family, it wasn’t all there for her that night. Christopher, who, despite his old money, has a Kennedy-Cuomo look, and Andre, who also addressed the convention, were there. But the eldest, John Heinz IV, a Buddhist blacksmith, was not. He apparently shuns the limelight — and mummy dearest. (John Heinz IV is founder and headmaster of Tinicum Art and Science School in Ottsville, Pennsylvania, which describes itself as “America’s First Buddhist Alternative School.” Beats working for the Tides Foundation.)

But back to the speaking disaster of all time: “My name is Teresa Heinz Kerry,” she continued, warming her theme, which turned out to be herself, who was having “such a powerful moment for me.” She seemed oblivious to the rest of the world, except as it was there applaud her. She continued, briefly acknowledging our role, to be delighted by Teresa’s wisdom: “And by now I hope it will come as no surprise to anyone that I have something to say.”

There was no stopping her: “And tonight, as I have done throughout this campaign I would like to speak to you from my heart,” she continued.

What about John Kerry’s heart? Who? Oh, right, him. Frankly, my dears, she seemed not to give a damn. Or as Teresa might put it: “Y a todos los Hispanos, los Latinos; a tous les Americains, Francais et Canadiens; a tutti
Italiani; a toda a familia Portugesa e Brazileria….”

Yikes. Somebody once said that a rich fool and his money…are soon invited everywhere. Being rich, Teresa has never been told how absurd and pretentious her opinions are. Can you imagine the rest of us getting by saying, “With John Kerry as president, global climate change and other threats to the health of our planet will begin to be reversed”?

She also came out for astral projection — no, wait, that’s what the campaign wanted to do with Teresa. On and on she went, with the nation riveted much the same way one is drawn to a terrible wreck on the highway. And the Democrats couldn’t stop her because, as Ronald Reagan once observed in slightly different circumstances, she’d paid for this microphone. Had it not been for Kerry’s interest in the couple’s $6.9 million house in Beacon Hill, part of Teresa’s dowry, he might not have had the collateral to get the loan that kept him afloat during the dark days of the campaign when even Licorice the hamster was ready to give up the ghost.

It was fun to watch the Edwardses praise Teresa’s speech while pretending it wasn’t the weirdest thing they’d ever heard. Teresa’s performance must have had Kerry supporters longing for the good old days when she confined?herself to Botox, the healing powers of green tea, and the harm done by DDT pesticides to lizards in Borneo. On a happier note, Le Monde gave Teresa’s speech a rave review. A knowing blog called Add Quanta captured the injustice: “If you are inside the U.S., you find her snobbish, insensitive, condescending, and overly scripted.” Unfortunately for the Democrats, Europeans still aren’t allowed to vote in American elections.

Anyway, Teresa is anything but scripted. That’s why she’s fun for everyone but Democrats. When she told a reporter to “shove it,” the remark had every appearance of being from the heart, the heart of a very rich lady who’s not used to being challenged. The rudeness immediately struck a chord with other rude-rich ladies on New York’s Upper East, who began sporting “Shove It” buttons. This wasn’t the best way to clinch undecided votes in the Midwest.

It’s not the money, Stupid. It’s the utter self-absorption. Teresa Heinz Kerry doesn’t seem to understand that America’s exercise in selecting the next chief executive isn’t about her, her, her. That’s the real reason people — outside the Upper East Side, the Hamptons, Nantucket, and Newsroomville — haven’t been able to warm to her. It’s not sexist to say that for the time being Teresa should be focusing on her husband. After all, John and Elizabeth Edwards, who aren’t even married to him yet, made John Kerry the center of their convention speeches; Teddy Kennedy’s convention speech, in between the slurring, was about Kerry; and even Howard Dean found nice things to say about his erstwhile foe.

Teresa must make Kerry wonder what it would be like to have a warm and cuddly wife at his side, somebody like Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has always done nothing but reflect glory on her man.

Besides, John and Teresa’s body language is all wrong, though perhaps we should be grateful for big favors. America couldn’t survive another version of Al and Tipper’s The Kiss.

Of course, the Heinz-Kerrys’ awkwardness may be a sign that John is on tenterhooks, waiting for Teresa’s next outburst. Instead of being supported by his wife, he has to jump in and save her from herself. When a Bush supporter with a bullhorn in Milwaukee shouted “four more years,” Teresa lost it, and yelled back, “They want four more years of hell….Three months!” At this point the poor senator had no choice but to grasp the microphone and say, “She speaks her mind and she speaks the truth and she’s pretty quick on her feet too.” (Has she been kicking him?)

It can’t be easy, playing Sir Galahad to Mary Todd Lincoln. It puts one in mind of an old Irish proverb: “No one works harder for his money than the man who marries it.”