BOSTON – When it comes to prospective first ladies, Americans have never seen anything quite like Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira Heinz Kerry.

If there were any lingering doubts about that, she spectacularly put them to rest on the eve of the Democratic convention here.

After making a speech to Pennsylvania delegates Sunday night, in which she lamented the decline of civility in American politics, an angry Heinz Kerry pointedly and very publicly told a journalist to “Shove it.” Television cameras dutifully chronicled every turn in the peppery exchange.

But it hardly was the first time the Mozambique-born billionaire has tossed around the kind of words or opinions that make political consultants shudder. And it is not the only element that makes Kerry, who speaks five languages and favors designer fare from Chanel, Giorgio Armani and Hermes, an exotic prospective first lady.

Five years older than her husband, the 65-year-old Heinz Kerry has said that after leaving the dictatorship of the then-Portuguese-ruled colony of Mozambique, one of the things she most appreciated was the ability to express herself freely – a right she often exercises with a remarkable lack of inhibition.

Speaking in a soft, low voice, still spiced with the accent of her native Portuguese, Heinz Kerry is known for sometimes stunning candor. In an famous 2002 Washington Post interview, she said “I love my husband”; she was referring to her late first husband, U.S. Sen. H. John Heinz III, who was killed in a 1991 plane crash. She also has talked about her prenuptial agreement that she required Kerry to sign to limit his access to her wealth.

As recently as Sunday, she spoke about John Kerry with Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball” program and told him that “You wouldn’t want to have a beer with John, because John is not a beer drinker. He doesn’t drink much period, he’s boring that way … .”

The timing of her “Shove it” comment, however, was stunningly unfortunate, coming the night before the convention would be gaveled to order and some 48 hours before she was slated to address the delegates in primetime on Tuesday night.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a woman who rarely minces words, considered the incident to be more positive than problematical. ” I think a lot of Americans are going to say “Good for you. You go, girl,”‘ she told CNN Monday. She may have been thinking of polls indicating Americans’ low opinion of the press.

And John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, firmly backed his wife. “I think my wife speaks her mind appropriately,” he said Monday. In May, 1995, Teresa Heinz, who was introduced to Kerry by her late husband, married Kerry, who had been divorced from Julia Thorne, since 1988.

What set off the contretemps was a question posed to Heinz Kerry by Colin McNickle, editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a daily with a circulation of more than 115,000 and a staunchly conservative bent. Heinz Kerry had told her home-state delegation “We need to turn back some of the creeping, un-Pennsylvanian and sometimes un-American traits that are coming into some of our politics.,” according to a videotape of the remarks.

As Heinz Kerry left the gathering, McNickle asked her what she meant by the term “un-American.” Heinz Kerry responded by asserting several times, “I didn’t say that,” before walking away.

But a short time later she returned to confront McNickle. She asked him who he worked for and produced an acidic smile at his answer, saying, “Of course.” Then she turned away, but quickly whipped around and told McNickle, “You said something I didn’t say. Now, shove it.”

A woman who only last year added Kerry to her name and switched from lifelong Republican to registered Democrat, Teresa Heinz Kerry comes across as strong-minded and independent as a Hillary Clinton, but without the political killer instinct.

Nonetheless, her sterling former GOP credentials may come in handy for the campaign, according to Anthony Mughan, a political scientist at Ohio State University. She can possibly reassure conservative and GOP voters about Kerry, he said, and “make him less fearsome to Republicans, that he is not this massively liberal Massachusetts Democrat who is going to take all your money and taxes and drain America.”

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In fact, as a stay-at-home mother when her children were young Heinz Kerry is as traditional, in many ways, as a Laura Bush, but with the saucy speaking style that sometimes slips toward indiscretion. Wearing her hair in an often unruly and tousled cap of curls, she projects a effortless look, but readily admits to gaining weight on the campaign trail, to using Botox to erase her wrinkles and now has make-up sessions or “M/U time” built into her campaign schedule.

Last week, in Sioux City, Heinz Kerry thanked Iowans for helping her “figure out how I would do out on the trail, campaigning for my husband … not afraid of making mistakes, but not very sure of myself.”



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Such indecorous sentiments have been expressed even by sitting first ladies, according to Myra Gutin, professor of communication at New Jersey’s Rider University and author of the 1989 book, “The President’s Partner: The First Lady in the 20th Century.”

“That’s the kind of thing that can follow you forever,” said Gutin. She recalled a moment during the 1984 presidential race when Barbara Bush, wife of the GOP presidential candidate George H.W. Bush, sought a way to describe Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate and the first woman to run on a national political ticket.

Known for a tart tongue in private, Barbara Bush told reporters, “I can’t say it, but it rhymes with rich.”

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