She is a gracious warrior with a kind face, a polished demeanor and the inner mettle of a survivor. Ann Romney has been called the secret weapon of her husband’s campaign, and he adores her: When Mitt Romney strides to the podium to introduce his wife of 43 years, he calls her “sweetheart.” She smiles. The crowd goes crazy.
And why shouldn’t they? Though the Romneys could emerge as the nation’s No. 1 power couple, there is a certain authenticity about them, built over decades around family and faith. She is confidante and counsel, trustworthy stalwart and humanizing companion — ready to step before a global audience on Tuesday evening at the Republican National Convention and tell the world what she knows about her husband: He’s a good man, a smart man. And he’s ready to be president.
Much is riding on her speech, which has won cheerful accolades from Mr. Romney himself.
“I spent a Monday morning with the Romneys at their summer home in New Hampshire. It is quickly apparent how close a partnership they have, and how much he relies on her,” said Fox News Sunday anchorman Chris Wallace, who recently strolled the shores of sparkling Lake Winnipesaukee with the couple, talking politics over a pancake breakfast.
“The governor said she advises him on everything — from strategy to staff to policy. He said she has ‘great instincts’ about how something will appear to different groups of people across the country. And he values her input,” Mr. Wallace said.
The members of the extended Romney clan are close. They can be raucous. But it is Mrs. Romney who understands that politics at its best can be a true calling. She herself calls it “destiny” and is convinced that her husband can save America.
“The Romneys had a family meeting a couple of years ago about whether he should run again for president. It was the governor and Mrs. Romney, their five sons, and the five daughters-in-law. The vote was 10-2 against running,” Mr. Wallace recalled. “The two in favor were Mrs. Romney and their oldest son, Tagg. She said, ‘You’ve got to run. The country needs you, especially with the economy in such trouble.’ She persuaded him to make another race for president.”
The concept of a Romney White House already has journalists speculating about the style and substance of a couple who are traditional, determined and driven by a sense of obligation to creed and country. There’s also some unkind coverage percolating about the couple, and little promise of a media honeymoon should the Republican win the election. But a USAToday/Gallup poll released Monday finds that a mere 24 percent of the respondents had an unfavorable impression of Mrs. Romney, on par, the research said, “with other potential first ladies about to make their first convention appearances.”
It would appear that, like her husband, Mrs. Romney is ready for the role.
“I spent some time with Mrs. Romney on the campaign bus in Iowa and was thoroughly impressed. She is truly a wonderful woman with an inspiring personal story. Like Mrs. Obama, I have no doubt she would be a wonderful first lady,” said CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer.
The evolving wife
Mrs. Romney has earned her stripes as a political spouse.
Consider that in 2008, an eager Mitt Romney threw his hat into the big ring, only to yank it back after a few weeks when he lost to Sen. John McCain in the New Hampshire primary. His wife vowed never to venture on the campaign trail again after that. But some part of her was not done with it. She looked heavenward for guidance, she mulled over the practical possibilities. Mrs. Romney embraced a second run for the White House with zeal, driven, friends have suggested, by her own prayers, and by the intimate belief in her husband’s acumen as a businessman and his ability to return the nation to its true bearings.
She’s ready to rumble.
Mrs. Romney has publicly acknowledged that she is at the convention to “unzip Mitt,” to act in the role of a “Mittigator” who brings out the greater dimensions of her candidate husband. The Romney campaign sees her as a major asset on the podium, and she has reached a certain hallmark of public importance. Mrs. Romney now has Secret Service protection as well.
Mrs. Romney will be showcased Tuesday evening, charged with warming up her husband’s image and appealing to a particularly powerful voting bloc in this election.
“Ann Romney has earned rock-star status this year among conservative women,” said Teri Cristophe, co-chairwoman of She-PAC, a political action committee seeking to help elect conservative women running for federal and statewide office.
“She is out on the campaign trail every day meeting women from all walks of life and has come to the same conclusion as many of us: The real ‘war on women’ is the economy,” Mrs. Christophe said. “I suspect that, like me, many women voters are extremely grateful to Mrs. Romney for speaking up about the economic hardships we are facing and the tough choices we are having to make in order to provide for our families. She is not at all intimidated by her critics and is clearly Team Romney’s greatest asset.”
The Romney romance is still very much intact, their marriage traditional. The couple met in a Michigan elementary school, kept in touch, admired from afar and married in 1969. The bride was 19, the groom 22; their wedding portraits reveal a good-looking couple who eventually raised a family of five boys with ample home cooking, good cheer and Bible reading.
The mother of five and grandmother of 18 is candid about the catastrophic illnesses that have upended her life, a struggle that has brought her much respect among voters. She is first to offer details about the challenge posed by her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, and her husband’s attentive devotion during the worst of it.
“Even when I was as sick as that, he would curl up in the bed with me,” Mrs. Romney recalled during a recent CNN interview. “It was like he was going to do anything he could to just say, ‘I’m here. You’re OK. Just stay right there, and we’ll be OK.’”
The incurable neurological disorder has been in remission, but not completely. Weakness sent her tumbling to the ground on Super Tuesday; it was a disturbing reality check, and a reminder to guard her health. Mrs. Romney also does not hide her encounter with breast cancer just as her husband’s campaign was getting under way in 2008.
Political prowess emerges
She is tough in other ways, adamant, for example, in dismissing the Democratic Party’s demand for greater disclosure of the Romney tax records. Mrs. Romney also remains unapologetic about her role as a stay-at-home mom, an issue wrenched into the public discourse after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen took issue with it in April, suggesting on CNN that Mrs. Romney didn’t understand real women’s problems because she had “never worked a day in her life.” The liberal press instantly and gleefully ran with the story.
So did Mrs. Romney. “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work,” she said in her very first tweet shortly thereafter. “All moms are entitled to choose their path.”
The moment perfectly illustrates Mrs. Romney’s political finesse, delivering her response with firmness and simplicity but no vitriol. Ms. Rosen publicly apologized for her remark, and the exchange prompted keen interest from broadcast news. Mrs. Romney, in fact, garnered twice as much coverage as first lady Michelle Obama that month, according to a University of Minnesota analysis released in the aftermath.
She was born Ann Lois Davies in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., daughter of a Welsh-born self-made businessman who was also mayor of the pleasant town just 20 miles northwest of Detroit. Her husband’s father, George Romney, was governor of Michigan, ran for president in 1968 and was ultimately appointed secretary of housing and urban development by President Nixon. Her mother-in-law, Lenore Romney, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1970. House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford attended her wedding to young Mitt. Ann Romney ran for town council representative in her residence at the time: Belmont, Mass. She was 27, campaigning door to door with printed handouts she made herself.
Mrs. Romney won.
She gained much additional insight about political realities after her husband tried unsuccessfully to unseat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994. Mr. Romney later declared that he would never run for office again unless he could win. The story changed eight years later when he was elected governor of Massachusetts by a generous margin.
It will change again should he win the presidency.
“I like my speech,” Mr. Romney told reporters Monday in anticipation of the Republican convention. “I really like Ann’s speech.”