THE OBJECT OF THEIR DESIRE

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

@body:"Does it make you nervous if I put the gun in the car?" Linda calls out, emerging from the back of her house with something wrapped in a washcloth, which she places on the kitchen table alongside a Sucrets box. The central Chandler precinct she's chosen to walk today has some tough neighborhoods, she explains.

The Rawleses only have one gun, a .38, which Linda bought strictly for self-defense. "I usually have Tom carry it in the Jag," she says. "They just assume you have money." Who they are is uncertain, but there's no time to ask, because Linda's behind schedule. Things are more hectic than usual at the Rawles home. Last night, Clayton had the stomach flu, and today, campaign manager Manda Turley is home with "an extreme case of PMS," Linda says. An hour ago, Pharaoh, the Rawleses' basenji, snatched Linda's lunch, an Arby's sandwich, from the kitchen table. The dog did leave the fries, which Linda has eaten, and now the candidate is ready to walk. After visiting with voters nearly every afternoon for more than a year, Linda's an expert at walking door to door. She's filled plastic bottles with water and ice, gathered petitions and clipboards and voter lists.

She heads outside to pack up the car after saying goodbye to Clayton, who's playing computer games in his bedroom with friends. Linda's sky-blue Range Rover is the campaign's command central on wheels. She's got a place for her water bottle, clipboards, lists, even the gun, which she loads with bullets from the Sucrets box and stows in a closed compartment, though she doesn't have a concealed-weapon permit.

Melissa Etheridge's Never Enough is in the tape deck, a stuffed elephant sits on the dash, a crystal hangs from the rearview mirror.

These days, Linda's hair is cropped short, its basic brown chemically coaxed to burnt sienna. She wears Bermudas, a Polo, big earrings and shiny, silver flats. She changes shoes each day, to avoid calluses, and wears a straw hat with a bright Guatemalan band to keep the sun off her face. No sunglasses--they restrict eye contact.

In the back of the car are boxes of campaign literature, bookmarks, refrigerator magnets and copies of a book titled The Imperial Congress, published by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative, Washington, D.C., think tank. Republicans who voted in the last election get one of each and, if they're home, a greeting from the candidate herself.

She's guided by computer-generated lists that tell her the names and addresses of Republican voters. Tom devised a code when he was walking precincts for his supervisorial campaign in 92, and she's careful to pen the letters by each name, after each visit: "L.A." means left all materials. "L.B." means left brochure. "S." means she got a signature on her petition.

Most people are kind, Linda says. About one in 20 isn't, and those people also get a listing by their names: "A.H." for asshole. Linda doesn't make it a practice to mention that her husband is a county supervisor, but some people recognize the name and want to chat about the county. She does, reporting their complaints or praise to her husband. One guy told her one politician in the family was enough. Another, wearing a Phoenix Suns shirt, hat and socks, was mad about Tom's vote against the stadium tax. Others tell her to tell Tom to keep up the good work. She's having trouble finding the right street. Tom's far better at directions, and weekends are a relief, because he navigates and drives; all she has to do is hop out of the car at each house and give her shtick. Being with Tom is a relief on a lot of levels. After she was divorced in 1982 from George Hinshaw, a carpenter and musician to whom she was married for four years, Linda tended bar to support Clayton. It took 13 years, but she got her degree in political science from the University of Indiana in 1988, then commuted to the University of Chicago Law School.

When she met Tom in 1990, "I never dreamed I would marry him," she says. They barely spoke that summer, although they did go to lunch on her last day at the firm.

They ate at a restaurant on Central Avenue named Scruples. "We shared a piece of cheesecake. . . . That was as intimate as we got," Linda says. That would soon change. With Linda back in the Midwest, the two fell into the habit of speaking on the phone for three or four hours a day. She asked for advice--should she take a job with Lewis and Roca or a Chicago firm?--and "we ended up talking about everything," Linda says. "We fell in love on the telephone."

The bride wore forest green. "I did not break up his marriage," Linda insists (a friend of Tom's ex believes otherwise). "Like I said, they had nothing in common. . . . We are not a bit ashamed of how we met or that we fell in love. Neither of us was truly happy until we met."

Nor are they ashamed, she adds, about the fact that they shacked up while Tom was still married.

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