Frequently seen but rarely heard, Callista Gingrich made her first solo campaign appearance in her husband’s home state of Georgia on Saturday, dipping a toe into the sometimes rough waters of life as a public-campaign wife.
Simultaneously the most silent and most discussed spouse on the 2012 campaign trail, she spoke to a group of GOP women at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta about growing up in Wisconsin, her days as a Girl Scout, the values she learned at Sunset Elementary School, and singing patriotic songs in her junior-high-school choir.
The woman famously known for never having a hair out of place never put a foot wrong in her remarks, which she had prepared in advance and read aloud.
For most in the audience, it was their first time to even hear her voice—a clean, Midwestern clip—and a rare chance to interact with her away from her husband, who in most outward respects is different from his wife in every way.
Where she is slim and pristine—she paired a pressed teal suit and matching blazer with a triple strand of pearls—he is a roly-poly mess of a man. The night before, he had been unaware that his rumpled brown suit jacket had ripped until a reporter asked him what had happened to it.
Where he is extroverted, brash, joyful, and snarling, she is cool, poised, occasionally nervous, and slightly shy.
While he blows through his stump speeches like a player at batting practice, she read slowly and directly from her prepared remarks Saturday, careful never to leave a word or phrase out of place.
“Newt and I believe America is an exceptional nation that must remain so,” she said in a typically earnest but scripted passage in her speech.
The happy result for the Gingrich campaign is that voters who meet Callista describe her as a great asset for the campaign, a woman who can humanize the gruff speaker and, ironically, provide the best answer to any lingering concerns about Newt Gingrich’s dedication to traditional family values.
“I was very impressed,” said Patsy Wharton, a real-estate agent in Atlanta. “I think she’s an asset. If more people could hear her, they’d see she’s a real person.”
Iris Callaway, an active Republican volunteer in Fulton County, agreed. “People need to hear her. She’s a beautiful blonde, and people think she’s just a Barbie doll, but I was so impressed with how in-depth she is.”
Other attendees called her impressive, bright, and intelligent, but wondered aloud what many people have been asking—where has this interesting woman been for the whole campaign?
The answer is that she has been hiding in plain sight, religiously attending nearly every speech, town hall, and debate of the presidential campaign, but almost always standing and smiling—silently—just behind her husband.
Although she is steeped in policy from her days as Capitol Hill staffer and clearly polished in public speaking, the untidy backstory of how she became the current Mrs. Gingrich made the task of introducing her to conservative audiences awkward at best.
But with Super Tuesday just weeks away and the former speaker struggling to win over suburban women voters, the campaign no longer has the luxury of wondering how or when to deploy Callista Gingrich. They must, and they have.
One Atlanta woman who did not want her name used admitted that the Gingriches’ infidelity did bother her, but meeting Callista in person had left her surprised and won her over.
“I’ve been married 40 years. I am thinking third wife, negative connotation, but I was swayed,” she said. “I used to think she was a detriment, more like baggage, but now I think she’s an asset.”