When Newt Gingrich was agonizing over whether to give up a controversial $4.5-million book advance, he consulted a trusted confidential adviser.
"Newt called me on New Year's Eve and said that was (his wife) Marianne's idea,' " said Gingrich's mother-in-law, Virginia Ginther. "He said they had talked it over and Marianne thought it was not good to take the money at the time."
Unlike the other Mrs. Gingrich--Newt's mother, Kathleen, whose candid interviews created a stir--Marianne Gingrich has avoided the press.
"She has a wise media policy. She doesn't talk to the media," said Tony Blankley, spokesman for Newt Gingrich.
But those who know the woman behind Washington's man of the moment describe her as a significant influence on her husband, an approachable, down-to-earth foil who has also tried to chart an independent role as a rising political spouse.
"She's a wonderful complement to Newt," said Bonnie Livingston, wife of Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.). "Where Newt is so energetic and ideas just seem to erupt from him, she is very laid-back and serene. She will stand to the side and let the spotlight fall on him. When he comes back down to earth, she's right there."
In his Jan. 4 speech accepting the speakership of the House, Gingrich gestured toward his wife in the balcony and called her his "best friend and closest adviser. If I listened to her 20% more, I'd get in a lot less trouble," he said.
Gingrich, 51, married Marianne, 43, in 1981--only six months after a difficult divorce from his wife of 19 years, Jackie.
The second Mrs. Gingrich met her husband-to-be in 1980 while he was campaigning for then-Ohio Rep. Lyle Williams. Marianne's mother said her daughter had accompanied a journalist girlfriend to a dinner Gingrich was addressing.
"We didn't know about it until one day she called and said, 'Can I bring a friend for dinner?' " Ginther said in a telephone interview.
The product of a "staunch Republican family," her mother said, Marianne is the third of four children of longtime Ohioans. She was born and raised in Leetonia, population 2,000, about 20 miles from Youngstown.
Her father, Harry, assistant manager for an insurance company, served as a town councilor and was the mayor when he died in 1977, Ginther said. Marianne's older brother, James, died of cancer last year. She has an older sister, Marilyn, and a younger brother, Jon.
Ginther described her daughter as an independent, active child who was always falling off swings and sleds. She had a mechanical bent and aspired to become an architect, but politics intervened early.
"She went to Kent State and was there when the shootings went on," Ginther said, recalling the killing of four students by the National Guard during anti-Vietnam War protests in 1970.
Deciding not to complete her education at Kent State, Marianne got a job designing houses. She headed the planning commission in an adjoining county at the time she met Gingrich.
In Washington as a new political spouse, she took a desk job with the Secret Service, but left to finish her degree at Georgia State College in Gingrich's Congressional district.
In a telephone interview with the Washington Post in 1985, one of the few she has given, Marianne said: "People think that because Newt is a conservative Republican, I'm just sitting home unemployed, barefoot and pregnant. Well that's just not true. I still have fun."
The second Gingrich marriage has not produced children--the Speaker has two grown daughters from his first marriage. But Marianne Gingrich shared some of the labor pains at the birth of her husband's strategy for a Republican takeover of Congress.
"She's a thinker. She's very bright. She is clearly a confidante and was an active participant in the seminars Newt did," said Mary Matalin, the talk show host and former Republican Party official, who also took part in the brainstorming sessions Gingrich held in the late 1980s.
"She doesn't serve the coffee," Matalin added.
Unlike some political spouses, Marianne Gingrich does not seem joined at the hip to her husband.
A few years ago, Marianne conceded difficulties in maintaining a marriage to a man who has spoken in all apparent seriousness of wanting to "shift the entire planet."
In 1989 comments reprinted in a recent Washington Post profile of him, she said their relationship had been "off and on for some time."
"You marry to get married, not because you want to 'change the world,' " she said. Her husband calculated then that the marriage had a 53% chance of surviving.
Her mother confirmed that the couple had had "some problems. Who doesn't have problems? It's a rough life. He travels so much. It was a bitter situation, but I think they worked it out. They seem very much in love now."
In a 1990 interview with People magazine, Gingrich gave his wife credit for persuading him to oppose the budget that broke President George Bush's pledge to "read my lips" and not raise taxes.
Marianne told People she tried to function as her husband's reality tester by keeping her "mind-set outside the Beltway."
To fulfill that function and perhaps safeguard her own sanity, Marianne Gingrich has spent considerable time with her family in Ohio and in Georgia, where the Gingriches recently purchased what Ginther called a storybook house in Marietta.
But as her husband's prominence has grown--in 1989, he was elected Republican whip, the No. 2 slot for the then-minority party in the House--Marianne Gingrich has been drawn into activities traditionally reserved for Washington political spouses.
She is on the board of Children's Inn, a residence for families of children undergoing cancer treatment at the National Institutes of Health. She is also a member of an "international club" that brings together wives of congressmen, foreign diplomats and U.S. Foreign Service officers.
Last year, along with Susan Armey, wife of Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, and Mary Ann Fish, wife of now retired New York Rep. Hamilton Fish Jr., she led a gathering of GOP Congressional wives.
Carolyn Hobson, wife of Rep. David L. Hobson (R-Ohio), said the meeting concentrated on ways to help spouses network and may have been the springboard for the new Republican leadership's proposals to make the House of Representatives more "family friendly."
Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) credits Marianne Gingrich with including Congressional spouses and other family members in the committee, which drew up proposals for a more predictable schedule and set aside a room in the Capitol where families can congregate when the House is in session.
"I think Newt puts a lot of trust in her opinions," Pryce said. "She is not always by his side and that is probably very good and healthy for her. . . . When the American people get to know her, if they get to know her, they will see her as one of them, very down to earth."