Teresa Heinz Kerry, who is 57 varieties of rich, owns five homes worth, in total, more than $30 million. One is a $5-million "farmhouse." Built originally in England the same year that Henry Tudor vanquished Richard III at Bosworth Field, it was painstakingly disassembled and rebuilt in Ketchum, Idaho. She co-owns this manse--to call it a farmhouse is really to do violence to the term--with her husband, along with a Beacon Hill townhouse in Boston worth $7 million. She is also the sole owner of a $9.1-million waterfront estate on Nantucket, a 90-acre farm outside Pittsburgh worth $3.7 million, and a 23-room townhouse in Georgetown valued at $4.7 million.

The press routinely reports that she is worth $500 million, but this is an egregious underestimate, according to the Los Angeles Times. Her actual worth is probably at least $1 billion, and may be as much as $3.2 billion. The daughter of a Portuguese doctor in Mozambique, educated at exclusive boarding schools in Switzerland, fluent in five languages, Teresa came to the United States and married John Heinz, ketchup kingpin and Republican U.S. Senator, in 1966. John Kerry is her second husband (she is his second wife). Only when he decided to run for president did she switch from Republican to Democrat.

She is the closest thing we have to an aristocrat in America. The Kerry campaign, after some early handwringing about this, eventually, and quite rightly, concluded that this aspect of Heinz Kerry is a huge asset. Her ability to forge an emotional bond with voters--particularly upscale, liberal, feminist, educated women, the sort who flock to Patty Murray's annual Oprah-esque Golden Tennis Shoe fundraisers--is in marked contrast to the policy-heavy speechifying of her husband.

She was in Seattle last Friday raising money, her second visit in recent months, and her talents were on full display. With her soft, accented English and stream-of-consciousness style of public speaking, she again projected an unusual--and sometimes, frankly, strange--mix of European earthiness and American therapy-tinged confessionalism. She combines, in one diminutive package, the hearth-and-home emotionalism of latte liberal motherhood with the unconscious paternalism of the mega-philanthropist. She would be the perfect first lady for Seattle, a town where new money comfortably supports communitarian liberal virtue. Had she been born in the Victorian era, she would no doubt be leading some sort of rich women's crusade to improve the hygiene of the poor or raise standards of sanitation in the slums.

Instead, as she imparted in a rambling, self-revelatory talk at a Kerry fundraiser in May, she is concerned with "broken cities." It is, she continued last week, "amazing, interesting, hard but hopeful work." This rhetorical style, of stringing together emotionally resonant adjectives, is a signature Heinz Kerry trait. Washington is a "progressive, thoughtful, beautiful state." It is important to be "enlightened, hopeful, persistent, and you have to believe in yourself." She talks of "wellness" and "safety."

She loves Seattle because of our beautiful trees, she said in May, a bizarre digression that prompted some of my male colleagues to speculate that she loves certain psychotropic plants as well. They openly worried that this sort of seemingly random, off-the-top-of-her-head wittering might harm the campaign.

My colleagues are right that Heinz Kerry can be weird, but they are wrong to see this as a liability. Women voters will tolerate a bit of strangeness from her, because they believe that the rich are not supposed to be like them, and because Heinz Kerry is always genuine, even when she is occasionally incoherent. She is living proof that in the American electoral process authenticity trumps logical consistency. She lends a touch of glamour to a party too long linked with the fusty rigidity of school-board bureaucracies.

Teresa Heinz Kerry has the ability to fire up an important part of the Democratic base. Who are they? Pollster Stanley Greenberg, in his book The Two Americas, describes a group he calls "super-educated women." They vote Democratic. They have money to donate. They don't like macho male posturing. They care about communities, about broken cities. Mother Teresa is their champion.

sandeep@thestranger.com

Support The Stranger