Larry Craig

Sen. Larry Craig's wife joins other political spouses who support their husbands during sex scandals

She didn't say a word and she wore big sunglasses, but Suzanne Craig was standing by her man — conservative Republican Sen. Larry Craig, who at that moment was denying he had propositioned a man in the stall of an airport bathroom.

She had walked hand-in-hand with her husband of 24 years to a news conference in front of a Boise bank. She placed her hand on the small of his back as he maintained he'd nothing wrong, that he wasn't gay and that he'd mistakenly pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in the bathroom case.

Why do the wives of politicians willingly step into the frame of public humiliation that only a sex scandal can bring?

Hillary Clinton did, though her appearance seemed more icy defiance than unconditional support. So did Dina McGreevey — initially, anyway. Later came a tirade of name-calling between herself and her husband, James McGreevey, who announced in 2004 on live television that he was stepping down as governor of New Jersey and that he was a "gay American." His wife stood next to him, looking shellshocked.

Even Wendy Vitter, after earlier saying she'd remove her husband's manhood should he ever stray, nonetheless stuck by husband David Vitter, a Republican senator from Louisiana who recently admitted to using an escort service.

Sometimes the answer is presenting a united front for purely public relations. Sometimes it's about hanging onto the perks of power and the pleasures of public office. And sometimes, political consultants say, it's the simple fact that she still loves the jerk.

"As hard as that may be to believe in some of these cases, that can't be discounted," said a laughing Mark Fabiani, longtime political consultant and Democratic spokesman. He should know about such things. He was special White House counsel to President Bill Clinton, and later served both Clintons during the Whitewater scandal.

"It's impossible to get inside anyone's marriage and figure out what really goes on," he said. "But if you can't immediately persuade your wife to stand with you, you're finished. How they convince them to stand there before cameras and hot lights and angry questions is impossible to know."

The Craigs, whom friends described Thursday as loving and close, have been hounded for years by speculation that theirs is a sham marriage, designed to derail rumors of the senator's homosexuality that date to the 1980s sex scandal involving congressional pages and cocaine abuse.

"I am not gay," Craig declared in his much-replayed press conference from earlier this week. "I never have been gay."

Craig was arrested at the Minneapolis airport in June, but never told his wife, his family or his congressional colleagues, he admitted Tuesday, one day after news broke of his arrest.

The Idaho Statesman had been investigating the senator for months. This week, it published a May interview in which a recording was played for the couple that contained the voice of a man who claimed he had oral sex with Craig in the men's room at Washington's Union Station.

Suzanne Craig's eyes reddened and filled with tears as she listened, the paper reported. "I'm incensed that you would even consider such a piece of trash as a credible source," she said.

In July, Sen. Vitter held his own press conference and admitted that yes, in the business sense, he knew a staff member of "D.C. Madam" Deborah Jeane Palfrey.

Mrs. Vitter found herself eating her own words from 2000. When she criticized Hillary Clinton for not divorcing Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, she cited the case of a woman who cut off her husband's penis.

"I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary," she said. "If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me."

At Vitter's press conference, his wife stood at his side.