Rachel Campos-Duffy balances motherhood with activism
Rachel Campos-Duffy may be more well-known nationally than in Wisconsin.
She laughs at that notion.
“That’s OK with me,” she said. “We lead public lives, but Sean and I are very private. We’re home on Friday nights and don’t do a lot of socializing. We want to be with our kids at home.”
Sean is her husband, Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, who represents the state’s sweeping rural, northwestern 7th Congressional District.
Campos-Duffy is a Latina, an outspoken Republican conservative and the mother of six. She’s also a television personality, pundit, blogger, speaker and author of the book “Stay Home, Stay Happy: 10 Secrets to Loving At-Home Motherhood.”
Last week, she was in New York to appear on NBC’s “Today” show, where she discussed family and social media as part of a panel with three other women. She also appeared on a web show and attended meetings on various projects, she said.
She’s made many appearances on TV’s “The View.” Twice she was considered for the “conservative” spot on the daily talk show.
She had a parenting blog for AOL and now contributes to the “Today” show blog – Moms.Today.com. She also contributes to the National Review Online, The American Spectator and Catholicvote.org. She has a manager, a hosting agency and a literary agent.
She was in Milwaukee on Saturday to speak at the Salute to Hispanic Women conference and luncheon in her role as a spokeswoman for the LIBRE Initiative, a national organization that advances economic empowerment in the nation’s Hispanic community.
Campos-Duffy and her husband, married for 14 years, are famously both veterans of MTVs “Real World” – she on “The Real World” in 1994; he on “The Real World: Boston” 1997. They met in 1998 on MTV’s “Road Rules All Stars,” a Real World reunion and travel show.
After marriage, they settled into real life in rural Hayward, where Sean grew up in a family of 11 children.
A champion lumberjack, he became Ashland County district attorney, and then decided to run for Congress after Democrat David Obey announced he was vacating the seat after 40 years.
Duffy won the seat in 2010 and was re-elected in 2012.
The family has moved from Hayward to Wausau so that Sean can be closer to an airport for his weekly commute to Washington, D.C., where he spends three or four days a week, she said.
With good looks, photogenic smiles and winning personalities, the Duffys, both 41, have been called not only a hot couple, but also a power couple in conservative circles looking for young bright stars to energize the Grand Old Party.
“The Duffys are everything that is right with the Republican party of Wisconsin right now,” said state GOP spokesman Nathan Conrad, who called the couple young and dynamic.
“They showcase the strength and unity of our message and are doing tremendous amounts of reach out to new communities that already believe in our common-sense conservative message but may not have been included before,” he said. “Sean and Rachel are exactly what the party needs to help spread our message and build our base, not just here at home, but throughout the nation.”
Maria Monreal-Cameron, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, which sponsors the Salute to Hispanic Women, said she wanted Campos-Duffy to give the keynote speech because “she sends a powerful, inspiring and motivating message.”
That message says that to succeed, immigrants have to assimilate culturally and economically, Campos-Duffy said.
Eager to comment on everything from parenting to family, politics and cultural issues, Campos-Duffy is emerging as a celebrity Latina conservative voice.
“I think demographically you saw what happened in the election,” she said. “Hispanics pulled Obama over the finish line. The message is that we have the power and Hispanics are beginning to understand the power they have.”
“What will dissipate our power,” Campos-Duffy said, “is if we hand it over to one party. When both parties are competing for the Hispanic voter, Hispanics will be better. Hispanic women, in particular, have the power because what we are doing in the marketplace is amazing.”
As the national spokeswoman for LIBRE Initiative, Campos-Duffy touts the message that Hispanics need to focus on education, economic liberty and self-reliance to gain access to the American dream.
“Sometimes well-intentioned programs can lead to dependency and cause us to forget we have what it takes to attain the American dream,” she said. “Hispanics are hard working, and that’s something I’m very passionate about. I know my own family’s story.”
Her grandfather left Mexico to work in the copper mines of Arizona, Campos-Duffy said. One of 16 children, her father grew up in a poor but hardworking family, she said.
“As a kid he started little businesses. He would go into the mountains and pick nopals (cactus pads) and sell them door to door. He started his own piñata business. He shined shoes,” she said.
He spent 32 years in the military. Her mother came from Spain.
“I know our stories of hard work, and I think they’re beautiful stories,” she said. “I want all Latinos to know the American dream is alive. I believe in economic liberty. I believe there’s no demographic more suited to achieving the American dream than Latinos.”
Campos-Duffy was born in Tempe, Ariz. She graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in economics. She has a master’s degree in international affairs from the University of California at San Diego.
At first she thought she would be a diplomat and interned with the U.S. State Department in Caracas, Venezuela. It was a great experience, but she said she decided that wasn’t her path.
When she saw an ad for an MTV “Real World” show, she sent in a tape, went through a series of auditions and ended up on the show. The San Francisco show became one of the most widely known after AIDS educator Pedro Zamora informed the other housemates that he had AIDS.
Her TV exposure led to a call from Barbara Walters and “The View,” where she’s had a 15-year relationship, including auditioning twice for the “conservative” spot now held by Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
Not getting the permanent spot on “The View” led to a powerful epiphany, she said.
“I thought I was between gigs, but I was actually doing what God wanted me to do in being with my kids,” she said. “I was happy how it turned out. I felt I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.”
She turned her mommy experience into blogging and in 2009 wrote “Stay Home, Stay Happy,” a book that offers tips on making the most of motherhood from relationships to having the right diaper bag.
Writing, she said, has allowed her to keep up her skills while staying home. TV and speaking engagements are short jaunts from home, she said. As the children get older, she’s doing more.
While she considers herself a stay-at-home mom, she believes motherhood and feminism has been redefined.
“This is not my mother’s motherhood,” Campos-Duffy said. Mothers who make the choice to stay home are no longer as isolated as they were in previous generations, she said.
“With the Internet and cable news, I know more about what’s going on through C-Span than many journalists,” she said.
“The Internet creates communities. It’s a new era, and it’s been going on the past 10 years. At-home motherhood has changed tremendously. If there were ever a time to be an at-home mom, this is the time.”
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