Mike and Nancy Abrams Didn't Just Agree to Disagree About Politics: They Got a Divorce
10/29/1979 at 01:00 AM EST
Politics has made strangers of bedfellows before, but rarely has a marriage cracked with such philosophical neatness. Four years ago, Mike and Nancy Abrams worked together for Jimmy Carter in Florida, helping to achieve the primary victory that made him a bona fide contender for the Democratic nomination. (It also ended the dreams of George Wallace, whose politics both Abramses detested.) Carter was appropriately appreciative, inviting Mike and Nancy to sit in his guest box at the national convention. Then trouble, romantic and political, set in. They separated shortly after the election; meanwhile Mike grew increasingly disillusioned with his friend from Georgia.
In 1977 the Abramses were divorced, and in recent weeks their marital war has moved to the larger battleground of party politics. In Florida's recently concluded Democratic caucuses, the first skirmish of the 1980 campaign, Nancy toiled as an organizer for Carter while Mike was co-manager of the Draft-Kennedy forces. Neither exactly blames disagreement over the President for their breakup, but it didn't help. "We have different styles of politics," says Nancy, 27. "They conflicted." Mike, 31, speaks of his alienation from Nancy and Carter in the same breath. "Even before the election I knew Carter wasn't right," he says. "Sometimes you just have a gut feeling about these things."
They met in 1971 while working on the McGovern campaign in Florida. Mike was a transplanted New Yorker who had become an antiwar activist at the University of Miami; Nancy was a native Floridian who had studied at the University of Munich. After their marriage in 1973 Mike and other maverick liberals took control of the party in Dade County. The next year, at the age of 27, he became county chairman, a job he still holds. The Abramses' shared cause became Jimmy Carter. "It was a very emotional time for me," Nancy recalls. "After the inauguration I was going through the reception line at the White House, and President Carter asked where Mike was and why we weren't together. He was very concerned when I told him we were separated and let several people know he wanted to talk to Mike. That's what makes Jimmy Carter different from most politicians—he can feel that personal kind of anguish."
Mike and Nancy still argue—now through intermediaries—about why he bolted the Carter camp. "Patronage—no question," says Nancy. "He didn't feel the people here in Florida were taken care of." Mike insists his reasons were mainly ideological, but he admits he was hurt when a state legislator was not appointed to the Civil Rights Commission as promised—and when the White House stopped returning his phone calls in mid-1977. "I don't think Hamilton Jordan ever forgave me for going around him to talk to Carter during the campaign," Mike says. "Jordan closed the doors on me." Nancy agrees. "We wanted to be so close to Carter that we ignored the people around him," she says. "It was our mistake."
Carter barely won the recent caucus vote—by rolling out the federal pork barrel, Mike complains—and now both Abramses are gearing up for the straw vote next month and the March 11 primary. Meanwhile, romance, like politics, goes on. Nancy, a Democratic national committeewoman who runs her own management consulting firm, is engaged. Mike remarried last June, just before the campaign began in earnest. Second wife Diane, 26, works as an administrative assistant to a state senator and helps out at Kennedy HQ nights and weekends. "I'm a political junkie," admits Mike, whose off-year job is public relations. "It's been this campaign and that campaign for the past 10 years. I'm not qualified for anything else, I must say, but I'd never get involved on the heels of a marriage for anyone but Kennedy." Might he run himself some day? "I don't see it," he says. "There is an incredible drain in politics. The price is too high."