Last June, under an oppressive sun, at a rally to save the Niagara military base at the University of Buffalo, all of New York’s top politicians—George Pataki, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton—poured sweat.
Yet there was exactly one member of the wilting delegation who managed, somehow, to stay cool: Hillary Clinton’s mysterious, glamorous and eerily unflappable aide de camp, Huma Abedin.
“It was like 110 degrees outside,” recalled the source, a political aide who asked to remain anonymous. “We were all just pouring down with sweat. But I have this distinct memory of Huma traipsing in in this blue pantsuit—it was like this wool pantsuit—not a bead of sweat on her brow, not a hair out of place, with everything perfectly organized in her Yves Saint Laurent handbag.”
That sort of fantastical, supernaturally tinged tale is not unusual. Indeed, in the insular world of New York and D.C. politics, Huma Abedin has become a sort of mythical figure.
On a day-to-day basis, Ms. Abedin is responsible for guiding the Senator from one chaotic event to the next and ensuring that the many hundreds of situations that arise at each—the photo ops, the handshakes, the speeches—go smoothly. The job of “body person”—industry-speak for the catchall role of an omnipresent traveling assistant—is a notoriously grueling one, requiring unfaltering level-headedness and a zeal for multitasking. These folks are constantly on the move, juggling 20 different chores, and they consequently often appear slightly disheveled (or even sweaty).
By most quantifiable measures, Ms. Abedin has the most challenging of those gigs. In the last 10 days, she has accompanied Mrs. Clinton to more than 20 events, involving nine plane flights and several trains. At each stop, they were mobbed.
“I think she has special powers,” said public-radio broadcaster Katia Dunn, who recently crossed paths with Ms. Abedin and Mrs. Clinton at a café on Capitol Hill.
Ms. Dunn explained that she had heard about the “cult of Huma,” but had never met her. “All of a sudden, I turn around and there was this woman I now know to be Huma. And it wasn’t just that she was gorgeous—she did just sort of have this presence. She stopped me in my tracks for a second.”
“It’s not like she’s incredibly coiffed,” Ms. Dunn continued. “She just looked very composed and confident in her natural beauty. She momentarily arrested our progress. What’s amazing is that she didn’t even yell at us or anything—she didn’t have to.”
Representative Anthony Weiner, a swingingly single Brooklyn Democrat who has known Ms. Abedin since before Hillary Clinton was elected to office, talked about her ability to perform under pressure “preternaturally.”
“This notion that Senator Clinton is a cool customer—I mean, I don’t dispute it, but the coolest customer in that whole operation is Huma,” said the Congressman, who watched Ms. Abedin in action earlier this month at the internationally covered march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
Crossing the bridge was a logistical minefield: huge crowds to navigate, innumerable V.I.P.’s—including former President Clinton—to hand-hold, countless photo ops to facilitate and a strict timetable to keep. “There were a hundred things that could have gone wrong,” Mr. Weiner recalled. “And Huma was sort of the all-purpose trouble-shooter of first response. It was a tour de force, and what was most impressive is that she maintained a level head the whole time.”
He added: “In fact, I think there’s some dispute as to whether Huma’s actually human or not.”
But, Really, Is She?
Which gets at another facet of the cult of Huma: She’s something of a mystery, even to the people who have worked in her proximity for years.
Very little is publicly known about her, which of course leaves plenty to talk about. And the rumors abound. According to various accounts from Huma acquaintances interviewed for this story: She’s Lebanese, she’s Jordanian, she’s Iranian, she’s 26, she’s 36, she has two children, she lives with the Clintons.
“No one knows anything about her,” said one political aide. “She’s like Hillary’s secret weapon.”
In point of fact, many people from countless different corridors across the globe know something of Huma Abedin. But apparently she has a rare knack for letting people in without really letting them in.
“This might seem too over-saccharine, but I love Huma,” said Oscar de la Renta, who is a personal friend and intensely loyal supporter of the Clintons. The legendary designer was speaking to The Observer on the phone from his compound in the Dominican Republic. He has known her for nearly a decade. Indeed, he noted, Ms. Abedin has actually been a guest at his island home. He described her as “discreet,” “loyal,” “beautiful” and “half-Pakistani.”
“She is an unbelievably feminine and gentle person, but at the same time she can accomplish so much,” offered Mr. de la Renta. He recalled that she had great style, but hastened to point out that “she’s a Muslim” and “she’s very conservative.”
“I always say I don’t want to die without seeing [Huma] in a strapless dress,” he said, with a laugh. But did the dapper dressmaker know, say, where his dream girl grew up?