When it comes to the US presidential election, Americans are never just voting for one person. Although the ticket will list the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the partners of presidents always prove to be a vote-shifting political force as well. It’s been written that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have made it to the White House without his wife, Nancy. And Michelle Obama has spent the last eight years running a program all her own: pushing for people to grow their own fruit and vegetables and live a healthier lifestyle. So who are the women (and one man) who could be moving (in one case, moving back) into the White House come January 2017?

Melania Trump. The wife of Donald Trump is more than a quarter of a century his junior. The Slovenian model married Trump in 2005, and the pair have a son, Barron William. Melania is Trump’s third wife, after he divorced Czech model Ivana Zelnickova, with whom he had three children, in 1991, and actress Marla Maples in 1999. Melania featured in a racy photo shoot in British GQ magazine in 2000, which was used by the anti-Trump super PAC Make America Awesome. It was given the caption: “Meet Melania Trump, your next first lady. Or you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.” Melania has mainly stayed on the sidelines throughout the campaign, but she did make a short speech in support of her husband when he won the South Carolina primary. It’s unclear what policies she would push from the White House, but The New York Post has written a very insightful piece about her changing fashion style: from skimpy supermodel clothes to demure First Lady “coat robes”.

Heidi Cruz. Married to Ted Cruz since 2001, Heidi has her own business and political pedigree and has been using them to propel her husband to the White House. Heidi is an investment manager at Goldman Sachs and was an economic policy adviser and staffer for George W. Bush. Heidi has been a prominent part of her husband’s campaign, playing a role in fundraising and spruiking her husband’s credentials to big business. Heidi was asked directly last year what she would do as first lady and answered: “My interests are really on the economic side, and there is such a need for raising the standard of living for those at the bottom of the economic ladder in this country.” A Cruz supporter was quoted by Quartz in March, saying “[Heidi] should be running for president” and “she’s on top of the issues, and she’s very personable”. BuzzFeed reports that she has struggled with depression and that when she left her Washington job in 2005, she was found by police sitting alone near a freeway, without a vehicle, with her head in her hands.

Bill Clinton. The husband of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is of course no stranger to the White House, serving as the country’s 42nd president. It will be interesting to see if, as the First Husband, he takes on the roles generally assigned to First Ladies. So far Bill has been a vocal part of Hillary’s campaign — the success of which has been given mixed reports. He recently seemed to be criticising President Barack Obama, saying: “If you believe we can rise together, if you believe we’ve finally come to the point where we can put the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us and the seven years before that where we were practising trickle-down economics, then you should vote for her.” But a spokesman said the remarks related to the Republican Congress, not Obama. The Week has criticised the former president, saying that he only makes news now when he makes a gaffe and that he should be put out to pasture.

Jane O’Meara Sanders. Married to Bernie Sanders since 1988, Jane has a degree in child development, a master’s in social work and a PhD in leadership studies in politics and education, and has been described as the Democratic hopeful’s “soulmate, a sounding board” by Bernie himself. The two met when Sanders became mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and when he became a congressman she was active in his policy work and was a key adviser. From 2004 to 2011 Jane was president of Burlington College in Vermont. In an interview with the Burlington Free Press in 1996, she said that her advocacy for social justice was borne out of her family’s economic status and her father’s disability. She has been vocal in Sanders’ campaign, recently telling reporters that she thinks that if voters get to know her husband, they will like him and vote for him.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey