UNTIL RECENTLY, OFT-EMBATTLED ex-political strategist Ed Rollins had a secret weapon in his corner: his glamorous wife, Sherrie. When Ed enraged fellow Republicans by agreeing to manage Ross Perot's presidential campaign in 1992, Sherrie quit her high-ranking White House public liaison job. And when Rollins boasted—falsely, he later said—he'd suppressed the black vote in New Jersey's '93 gubernatorial election by paying off African-American ministers, his second wife "stood by me, loved me and comforted me," he wrote in his '96 memoir Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms.

These days, though, Ed, 54, and Sherrie, 38, who met while working on Ronald Reagan's 1984 reelection campaign, are living on separate floors of their Bronxville, N.Y., home. Last week, Ed, now general manager of New York City's Edelman Public Relations, acknowledged they had decided to divorce amid rumors of Sherrie's involvement with her former boss David Westin, 44, new head of ABC News. (Sherrie, a public relations exec at ABC, told columnist Liz Smith she is "in love" with Westin but denied an affair.) Says a friend who attended the Rollinses' elegant 1987 wedding in Roanoke, Va.: "They had a good-natured sense of humor about themselves. I thought that would get them through anything."

Ultimately it didn't, according to the couple's sharply divided friends. "A line has been drawn in the sand," says one ominously. Sherrie's partisans say Ed's penchant for controversy made for a turbulent life. Ed's friends characterize Sherrie as an intensely social career woman bent on advancement. On one topic, though, both sides agree: Ed and Sherrie remain devoted to Lily, the 2-year-old daughter they adopted in 1995, and may seek joint custody.