THE OBJECT OF THEIR DESIRE

WOULD-BE POWER COUPLE TOM AND LINDA RAWLES WANT VOTES MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE

Most days, Linda Rawles rises at 8 a.m., drinks a Diet Coke, reads the morning newspaper and goes about the business of running for Congress. If she gets up any earlier, she vomits. Her husband, Tom, however, is an early bird. He's on the freeway to Phoenix--and his dual career as corporate lawyer and Maricopa County supervisor--before Linda's "human." At night, Linda tosses and turns, silently debating her opponents, while Tom snoozes.

The Rawleses don't see much of each other. He's a morning person, she's night. Their afternoons and evenings are jammed with events. But they remain together by other means. They are linked not merely by the love of husband and wife, but by a shared obsession with politics and their quest to conquer Arizona's Congressional District 1.

On a rare, empty evening in July, the loving couple sprawl on their living-room sofa, her bare feet in his lap. They are euphoric. They are together, and they are to spend the next couple of hours discussing their favorite subjects: themselves and their politics.

Both wear Polo shirts and Bermuda shorts. For high-priced Republican attorneys with a Jaguar and a Range Rover in the driveway, they're a bawdy pair. He burps, struggling to digest dinner--tequila chicken from the Rawleses' favorite restaurant, Applebee's; she stands to give her underpants a yank when they've crept up too far for comfort. Other than the occasional screech of a portable phone, the house is quiet, and if tonight is typical for the Rawles household, in a couple hours, Tom and Linda will watch the 10 o'clock news in bed before Tom passes out and Linda starts fretting.

Pillow talk, Tom says, will consist of "the campaign. The county. The budget. And how tired we are." Linda laughs, starts to speak, reconsiders. Goaded by Tom, she chuckles and says, "I was gonna say we would have sex, but we're too tired." Although Tom, who's 44, and Linda, who's 35, envision long political careers for themselves, they don't talk about the distant future. Nothing beyond the September 13 GOP primary, the November 8 general election and the trip to Jamaica they've promised each other.

The Rawleses' zeal borders on evangelism. Their wear their dogma--libertarianism tempered by marital bliss--like sturdy armor, particularly effective against the nasty headlines that have badgered Tom for allegedly using his supervisorial post to raise money for Linda's campaign.

"I'm her biggest advantage. I'm also her biggest disadvantage," Tom says. ". . . . We're not running as a couple, but we clearly are a team. And, yeah, there's an impact. Am I worried about it? I'm aware of it, but worried is not the right word, no."
Why should he be? In May, Linda released a poll which showed her to have the highest name recognition in her race--an obvious plus of sharing the county supervisor's last name.

The Rawleses are compatible between the sheets and on the campaign trail--though not necessarily in that order.

Tom says, "I'm not sure that we have a relationship right now that's separate from what we're doing. I mean, we love each other and we do things, but underlying it all is the county and the campaign."

@rule:
@body:Throw out ideology, and Tom and Linda Rawles are the East Valley's version of Bill and Hillary Clinton. They're both lawyers. Tom's supersensitive about his waistline; Linda changes her hairstyle every six months.

The Rawleses' love nest/war room is a modest house in Dobson Ranch, in Mesa, where they live with Linda's son, Clayton, 14, two dogs and a cat. Linda says the cat is the only thing Tom got from his first marriage, which lasted almost 20 years. It ended when Tom met Linda. His first wife, Michele Rawles, declined to be interviewed. A schoolteacher, she lives in Gilbert. The current Mr. and Mrs. Rawles met in 1990 at the Phoenix law firm Lewis and Roca, where Tom was practicing business law and Linda was clerking during her last summer of law school at the University of Chicago. Linda and her son left the Midwest for Arizona in the summer of 1991, and Tom and Linda were married that December--three months after Tom signed the divorce papers.

It's been a political whirlwind ever since. Tom ran for--and won--a seat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in November 1992. Now Linda is one of five Republicans vying for the chance to represent Arizona's Congressional District 1, the spot being vacated by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sam Coppersmith. Coincidentally, both Tom and Linda were just observers of American politics until 1986, when she ran for a county council position in Indiana and he considered a bid for CD1. Linda lost her primary by 250 votes, and Tom never made it to his--he pulled out to support and eventually work for the winner, former representative Jay Rhodes.

Tom worked for Rhodes as his local chief of staff for two years, then left to practice law full-time with Lewis and Roca.

In 1988, Linda lost another primary, this time for Indiana's state legislature. Then it was off to law school, Lewis and Roca and, eventually, love.

Now life revolves around politics, and the Rawleses couldn't be happier, they say, beaming at each other across the couch.

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