MARION, IOWA — There's another man out on the presidential campaign trail this year looking to become America's first gentleman.
While former President Bill Clinton tours the country on behalf of his wife, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Frank Fiorina is hitting the road in Iowa and other early voting states for his wife Carly Fiorina, the former technology CEO seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
While more men have entered the traditionally female role of political spouse in state-level races, this is the first time there have been two men in supporting roles in a presidential cycle
Frank Fiorina, the onetime corporate executive who took early retirement to support his wife's trailblazing career, freely admits he's not as polished a politician as Bill Clinton. But he's happy to perform the primary function of a campaigning spouse, providing a warm and fuzzy perspective on his wife of 30 years.
Quick with the quips
"People ask me, what's it like being married to someone as powerful and as smart. It's wonderful and it's awful," he joked to about 20 people gathered at a coffee shop in Marion, Iowa earlier this month. "Because everything she does is better than me."
Dressed in a navy suit, with a striped tie and plaid vest, Frank Fiorina visited with Iowa voters and greeted volunteers for a super political action committee working on Fiorina's behalf.
"She impresses me every day," he tells one attendee before the event in Marion. To another he quips: "I think I know what it's like to be a woman running."
Carly Fiorina currently lags in the Republican polls, but has won positive reviews for several strong debate performances. "I definitely always thought she was something special," her husband says.
She often talks about her husband, telling audiences about how they met while working at AT&T, or about how he made her grilled cheese sandwiches when she was battling cancer and struggled to eat. During the latest Republican debate, she took a shot at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton — a frequent target — by saying: "unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband."
Frank Fiorina got a taste of campaign life during Carly Fiorina's failed 2010 bid for Senate, but in an interview with the Associated Press, he acknowledges that presidential campaigns are at a different level altogether.
Taking on Trump
One of its mudslinging low-points, he says, involved insults Republican front-runner Donald Trump made about his wife's face.
"I'm an Italian boy from Pittsburgh, so when people criticize Carly, I get pretty irritated pretty fast," Frank Fiorina said. "But having said that, when Trump said what he said about her face, I thought that was kind of humorous. I mean, my God, has he ever looked in a mirror?"
Frank Fiorina met his future wife when both were working for AT&T in Washington. He recalled that it took him two years to build the courage to ask her out and he told her on the third date that she'd run the company one day.
He was close. Carly Fiorina eventually left AT&T to run Hewlett-Packard instead.
Frank Fiorina was enamored by the way she immediately hit it off with his two young daughters. They married in 1985 — the second marriage for both.
Eventually, Frank Fiorina retired to support his wife's rising career. But he stresses that she did as much for him as he did for her.
"People say 'it's so great you support her,'" he said. "She supported me. I don't mean financially, I mean with those kids, now with the grandchildren. They don't call me, they call her."
Like most couples, Frank Fiorina notes they've had their struggles. They were unable to have children together, which he says was "painful."
Carly Fiorina was ousted from the top job at HP in 2005, after leading a major merger and laying off 30,000 workers. But some of their worst times came in 2009, when Carly Fiorina was diagnosed with breast cancer and Lori Ann Fiorina, Frank Fiorina's daughter, died after a struggle with alcohol and drug addiction.
"It was a really bad year," said Frank Fiorina, who wears a gold bracelet fashioned from a necklace his daughter was wearing when she died. "She suffered for a couple of years. I just knew it was going to end badly."
Should he get to the White House, Frank Fiorina says that two areas he'd like to focus on are supporting the military and combating substance abuse.
He says he's not intimidated to be compared with the other potential first gentleman on the campaign trail, although he jokes that Bill Clinton is smarter than him, and if voters are "just looking for sheer brilliance in a first guy, that's the one."
For now Fiorina says he's just figuring it out as he goes along.
"Honestly, I'm going to wing it."