—By Ruth Samuelson
When journalist Connie Schultz married Sherrod Brown in 2004, he was a mere congressman. At first, the middle-aged lovebirds had a nice routine: He worked in Washington during the week while she wrote her column for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. When he could, he caught an early flight home to Ohio. They’d take “walk-and-talks” around the neighborhood and chat into the night. Life was wonderfully uncomplicated.
Then Brown decided to run for the Senate.
. . . And His Lovely Wife is Schultz’s tale about standing by her man while remaining her own woman. She doesn’t embrace her husband’s bid for election. In fact, she claims to be “dead last” in approving it.
“Can’t we just talk about it?” he asks her before entering the race.
“Which part of ‘it’ do you want to talk about?” she responds. “How we’ll be apart for an entire year? How I will lose my job and have to give up my career? How you could lose your job? Or how our entire lives will be splayed for public consumption and the Republican attack machine?”
Brown, a Democrat, is now Ohio’s junior senator, so this story ends happily. But for most of the campaign, as recounted in this book, Schultz is worried about his chances.
For months, friends and Democratic politicians urge him to join the race, saying the country needs a strong liberal in the Senate. Schultz finally agrees. She and Brown lay down ground rules. If they’re going to relinquish so much in their lives, they’d better do it right. That means remaining unabashedly progressive and campaigning everywhere in the state, including staunchly Republican districts. At that time, no Democrat had won statewide office in Ohio for 14 years.
The most compelling parts of this book are about sacrifice. Schultz was a journalist long before she was Sherrod Brown’s wife. Her self-identity is wrapped up in her career—she won a Pulitzer Prize for her column in 2005. She knows she’ll have to take a leave of absence, but she stalls. Her last few weeks at work are torturous. She purposely alienates herself from colleagues who are covering her husband’s campaign. In the meantime, the Plain Dealer publishes negative articles about Brown, including a cartoon likening him to Richard Nixon. By the time she goes on sabbatical, she seems relieved to be free.
That feeling doesn’t last long. Soon Schultz is filming preemptive campaign advertisements with Brown’s ex-wife in case his opponent knocks his family values. During the campaign, her father has a heart attack. As he lies dying in Ohio, she tells her husband to stay in Washington for national-security votes. “If you miss these votes,” she says, “you’ll be attacked, probably in an ad, for not caring about Americans’ safety.”
Schultz’s writing is crisp and funny, and above all sincere and unapologetic. She lights into the nonstop-campaign mentality, the Plain Dealer (where she continues to work), and her husband’s Republican opponent in the 2006 campaign, Mike DeWine. But she also doesn’t refrain from self-aggrandizing statements or mentioning her Pulitzer repeatedly. After months of talking about her husband, she clearly relishes writing about herself.
Still, the book’s charms far outweigh its minor flaws. There are plenty of “lovely wives” out there on the political scene—one is even running for president. Schultz is different: She never lusted after power or entirely welcomed her new role. Upon temporarily leaving her job, she wrote in her journal: “WHAT’S TO BECOME OF ME?”
The answer: a journalist turned senator’s wife turned keen and winning memoirist.