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For the Sullivans, Bedfellows Make Strange Politics

Ray Sullivan is the communications director for Rick Perry's presidential campaign. His wife, Leslie, is a fundraiser for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Awkward, huh? "Oh, the poor dears," Mary Matalin says — and she should know.

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In March 2010, it is unlikely that Ray and Leslie Sullivan could have anticipated the situation they currently find themselves in. At the time, he was Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff, and she was one of Perry's top fundraisers for his re-election campaign.

She parted ways with the Perry campaign after the March primary, reportedly following a dispute over compensation. Later, after being assured that the governor had no intention of running for president, Leslie and her business partner, Krystle Alvarado, signed on to raise money for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential bid.

You probably see where this is going.

Perry did get into the race. He announced on Aug. 13, and Ray became the campaign's communications director. Meanwhile, Leslie has remained true to her agreement with Romney. The upshot is that the Sullivans find themselves not just on opposite sides but working for the Republican primary's chief rivals.

Leslie declined to talk about what can only be considered an uncomfortable situation. Ray characterized it as "a temporary quirk," telling the Tribune on Monday afternoon, "We're both political professionals and didn't expect this to happen, but now that it has happened, we'll live through it together."

When there are two political professionals in a household, he said, "this happens from time to time. Certainly the Matalin-Carville case is the most high profile, though that was outside the party."

Perusing the very short list of people who might be able to provide further insight and advice on such matters, we decided to head straight for the top.

"Oh, the poor dears," Mary Matalin wrote in an email to the Tribune. A marquee Republican strategist, Matalin is famously married to marquee Democratic strategist James Carville. The two worked on opposing presidential campaigns in 1992 and were married in 1993. Unlike the Sullivans, they had never worked on the same side. "At least we were always against each other," Matalin wrote.

Asked how awkward the Sullivans' current situation might be, Matalin said, "Campaigns are too busy and exhausting and all encompassing to have much time to devote to personal feelings." But when things do slow down and allow for moments of togetherness, she advises "never never NEVER" talking about work — even off the record. "Share nothing," she said. "If you cannot share nothing, then quit."

Ray did not anticipate any difficulties there. "Even when we were both working for Gov. Perry," he said, "we didn't really talk much political business. We've got plenty of things to talk about and to occupy our evenings and weekends besides rehashing or discussing political strategy."

In the end, only one of the Sullivans can emerge victorious. Put another way: It is inevitable that at least one will end up on the losing side. "Obviously, we're all Republicans, and we'll be unified behind in our support of the nominee," Ray insisted. In Matalin's experience, however, it can be difficult for the losing spouse to celebrate with the winner. "You can grin and bear it, as graciously as your mother would insist," she said.

People who know the Sullivans — at least the ones we talked to — appear largely at ease with the potential complications.

"I've obviously been in touch with Leslie," said Thomas R. Phillips, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and a diehard Romney supporter. Phillips knows Sullivan well — she worked as his finance director in 1996. He had no complaints about the situation, nor had he heard any. 

GOP congressional candidate Roger Williams, a former Texas secretary of state and big-time Republican fundraiser backing Perry in the primary, conveyed a similar lack of distress in his circles. "They're both friends of mine, and they both do a great job. But, of course, it's kind of unique, isn't it?" he said. "I do know this: If I'm picking a team, I'd sure want both of them on my side."

Ray pointed out that he and Leslie serve in different roles in their respective campaigns. Along with his media relations duties, he is heavily involved in discussions of strategy and tactics. She exclusively focuses on fundraising. There is not too much overlap in their daily concerns. Still, he said, "we're both professionals and able to keep the necessary confidences of our employers."

"I feel for them," Matalin wrote in her email. "But I am confident — truly — they will be loyal to their respective candidates. Each understands that of the other and would disrespect any lapses ... which is not to say each won't try. In that case, I put my $$ on the gal. We have the secret weapon!"

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