The Republican Party will begin the thorny business of choosing its nominee for president in earnest this week when the candidates meet in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Wednesday evening to take part in the first televised debate of the campaign season.
Front-runner Donald Trump has declined to participate, however, refusing to sign the GOP’s loyalty pledge and arguing that there is no advantage for him in appearing, given that he is so far ahead of his rivals in the polls.
The broadcast is being hosted by Fox News, with Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum moderating and taking turns to put the questions to the candidates.
The likes of Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Mike Pence will relish the opportunity to distinguish themselves in front of a primetime TV audience, having so far struggled to emerge from the former president’s long shadow and convince the MAGA die-hards that they are a viable alternative to a man twice-impeached and now four-times-indicted who could, theoretically, end up contesting the election from a prison cell.
The evening also represents an opportunity for less well-known candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy and Doug Burgum to make a name for themselves on the national stage and prove that they have what it takes to battle Joe Biden.
You might be familiar with the candidates themselves by now but you may not be so well acquainted with their families. Here is a brief introduction to their better halves.
The North Dakota governor was married to Karen Stoker between 1991 and 2003, with whom he had three children: Jesse, Joe and Tom Burgum.
He married his second wife, Kathryn Helgaas, in 2016, who, as first lady, has championed programmes tackling addiction.
The former New Jersey governor has been married to investment banker Mary Pat Foster for nearly 40 years, the couple having met during their undergraduate days studying at the University of Delaware in the early 1980s.
The ninth of 10 siblings born to an Irish Catholic family in the Philadelphia suburb of Paoli, the future New Jersey first lady married Mr Christie in March 1986 and they have four children: Andrew, Sarah, Patrick and Bridget.
The Florida governor is married to Casey DeSantis, 43, an economics graduate from the historic College of Charleston in South Carolina who went on to become a successful television news anchor and documentary producer.
The couple married in September 2009, their wedding taking place at Walt Disney World Resort, which the groom admits is now “kind of ironic” given his bitter disputes with the Walt Disney Corporation as governor.
They have three small children together: five-year-old Madison, four-year-old Mason and two-year-old Mamie, the latter said to be the first baby to be born in the Florida governor’s mansion in more than half a century.
Ms DeSantis has been cruelly nicknamed “Trashy Onassis” on the campaign trail but has played an important “humanising” role for her husband, who frequently comes across poorly in public exchanges. A recent profile by Politico warned that the extent of her influence over her husband’s policy positions was excessive and should be a source of concern to voters, given that she is unelected.
In October 2021, it was announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, although she confirmed the following March that treatment had been successful and that she was now cancer-free. She has since dedicated herself to raising awareness of the disease.
The former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the UN is the daughter of Indian immigrants to the United States and was Nikki Randhawa until she married Michael Haley, a major in the South Carolina Army National Guard, in September 1996, the ceremony catering to both Sikh and Methodist customs.
The couple met as teenagers at Clemson University and Mr Haley became South Carolina’s first-ever first gentleman when his wife entered the governor’s mansion in Columbus in 2011. He is about to begin a year’s deployment to Africa with the National Guard, meaning he will be abroad for much of Ms Haley’s presidential campaign, having previously spent 11 months in Afghanistan in 2013 helping the locals develop sustainable agriculture.
They have two children: daughter Rena, 25 and son Nalin, 21. The former is a paediatric nurse and the latter a student at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
The former Arkansas governor is celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary this year with Susan Burrell Hutchinson, whom he met at Bob Jones University in South Carolina when both were students.
Susan Hutchinson is primarily known for her philanthropy, serving on the board of directors of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation and undertaking charity work on behalf of the American Heart Association and Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
They married in 1973 and have four grown children – Asa III, Sarah, Seth and John Hutchinson – and six grandchildren.
The former vice president is married to Karen Pence, a schoolteacher and illustrator he first met at St Thomas Aquinas Church in Indianapolis in 1983 when he saw her playing guitar during Mass. The couple’s first date took them ice skating at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and they later married in June 1985.
She has been by his side ever since, joining him in converting to evangelical Christianity and serving as Indiana’s first lady from 2013 to 2017 and as the second lady of the United States between 2017 and 2021.
A high-flyer with an Ivy League background and a lucrative career that has taken him from Wall Street hedge funds to biotech startups in Silicon Valley, it should come as no surprise that Mr Ramaswamy is married to a doctor.
He first met his wife, Apoorva Tewari, at Yale when both were studying medicine. She went on to become a resident physician at New York Presbyterian Hospital – Columbia and Cornell, specialising in swallowing disorders as a laryngologist.
She is also an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Ohio State University.
They married in 2015 and now have two young sons: Karthik (born in 2020) and Arjun (born in 2022).
Perhaps most interestingly of all, the South Carolina senator is the only singleton among the candidates.
That means that, were he to win the nomination and then next year’s election, he would not only be just the second Black man to serve as president of the United States but also the first unmarried man to hold the office since Grover Cleveland in 1884 (Cleveland wed Frances Folsom two years into his term).
The 45th president’s wife is of course, Melania Trump, the Slovenian former model who appeared to loathe every moment of her life in the White House as first lady, often seen batting away her husband’s hand with a fixed grimace on her face as they emerged from Air Force One.
Ms Trump was ridiculed for her macabre taste in Christmas decorations and denounced for her insensitive choice of jacket on a visit to a migrant detention centre on the Texas border and this time appears highly reluctant to play any role in her husband’s re-election campaign whatsoever.
She is Mr Trump’s third wife and they have one son together, Barron, now 17.
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