US elections 2012: four future First Ladies

Matt Williams profiles the wives of some of those hoping to become US president

Mitt Romney kisses his wife AnnGerald Herbert, AP

Valentine's Day is over, but there hasn't been an awful lot of love around for some of the presidential candidates in any event.

Frontrunner Mitt Romney continues to come across as the reluctant suitor, at most tolerated by a party faithful being urged on by Republican bigwigs to just lie back and think of America.

His main rival for their hearts appears to be Rick Santorum, a man beloved by those on the evangelical wing of the party.

But even the affection being bestowed on him seems fleeting, designed in large part to force a jealous Mr Romney into bowing to conservative whims.

As for former Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker has been spurned repeatedly by voters, and does little to woo a media he has chastised as "despicable, vicious and negative".

Fortunately all three - and the race's other candidate Ron Paul - have the love of a good woman behind them.

No candidate would be complete without the doting other-half by their side on the campaign trail.

Indeed only four men have served in the White House without a first lady beside them. And of those only the antebellum James Buchanan was a true bachelor, the others having been widowed before taking office.

A century and a half on from Buchanan's time, it seems inconceivable that a politician would mount a serious White House bid without first ticking the "married" box.

With the current race in the mid-February doldrums - between the excitement of the early primaries and the Super Tuesday votes of 6 March - it is perhaps time to reflect on the women who could be America's next first lady.

The most likely spouse to be in the running is Ann Romney.

A childhood sweetheart of the Republican frontrunner, the pair have been married for 42 years - as Mr Romney never tires of telling anyone willing to listen.

Her appearance on the stump has been a little vanilla, all smiles and perfect hair but little in the way of substance.

Such a low-key approach may serve her husband best. There is certainly nothing to suggest that she could draw controversy in the way that, say, Teresa Heinz received flak while husband John Kerry was running for president.

Likewise skeletons in Mrs Romney's cupboard have not been found.

But eyebrows have been raised over the treatment of her deceased father, a Welsh-born ardent anti-religionist who was baptised into the Mormon faith after his death in 1992, presumably against his wishes.

Atheism does not play well in American politics, but the posthumous absorption of an unwilling participant into a faith is, to many, a step too far.

Still, her presence certainly doesn't harm her husband's chances. Likewise Messrs Santorum and Paul benefit from the occasion appearance of spouses Karen and Carol on the campaign trail.

The same cannot be said for the third Mrs Gingrich.

While the other candidates boast proudly of their marriages - 116 years of wedded bliss and 18 children between them - the former House speaker is a little reticent on the subject.

And well he might be. A serial adulterer, Mr Gingrich reportedly divorced his first wife while she was receiving cancer treatment and his second after she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

His affair with Callista, a staffer some 23-years his junior, took place while the former House speaker was trying to impeach President Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The couple's lifestyle - they have a seven-figure credit account at Tiffany's and opted for a Mediterranean cruise when aides urged them to campaign at home - has not helped the third Mrs Gingrich battle a negative media image.

Taken as a whole, the Republicans wives club does at times look like it should have its headquarters in Stepford, Connecticut; they are just a little too immaculately turned-out.

If it were they rather than their husbands running, Michelle Obama - who continues to win plaudits for her style and a bid to get America fit - would be a shoo-in for a second term as first lady.