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Presidential Race
1:38 pm
Mon August 20, 2012

Ann Romney Adds Fire, Faith To Husband's Campaign

Originally published on Mon August 20, 2012 6:52 pm

If you want to see how much Mitt and Ann Romney consider themselves a team, check out his official portrait at the Massachusetts Statehouse. He's the first governor to request that an image of his wife be included in the painting — he's posed beside a framed picture of her.

By all accounts, the Romneys consult each other on everything. So after a bruising campaign in 2008 that left Mrs. Romney openly disgusted by the process and vowing she would never do it again, it looked like that might be it for Mitt.

But as resolute as Ann Romney was then, she was equally firm, just two years later, that her husband simply had to run again.

Speaking in Orlando, Fla., just a few months after her husband officially declared himself a candidate, she explained to a crowd of supporters: "I have the same voices or feelings or intuition, women's intuition, right now again — that we need to jump off the cliff again. There are not many people that can save this country and turn it around — it needs a turnaround."

Margaret Wheelwright, who became close friends with Ann Romney at church in the early 1970s, says it was a "faith-oriented" decision.

"[Ann] told me ... 'I just felt when I was praying one night that, you know what, he could make a difference,' " Wheelwright says. "She encouraged him because of how she felt after she prayed. She felt like that the Lord said, 'You know what ... he's capable, you stick behind him, because he can do it.' "

A 'Fire-And-Ice Relationship'

Today, Ann Romney has gone from a Massachusetts first lady most voters wouldn't recognize to practically a co-candidate — often the warm-up act before her husband takes the stage, and just as often, headlining events on her own.

"I think of Ann Romney as the fire in the fire-and-ice relationship between her and Mitt," says former Massachusetts state Treasurer Joe Malone, a Republican who has known Ann Romney since 1994, when her husband first ran for U.S. Senate.

"She has gone from the wife who was happy to be supportive of the husband and just keep him company in the car," says Malone, "to an opinionated woman who's highly valued — and then, on top of that, someone who's a very effective communicator for the campaign."

Dynamic, down-to-earth and poised on the stump, Mrs. Romney learned the hard way. She was most known in the 1994 race for her stumbles; for example, when she said she and her husband were so poor as students, they had to sell some of their stocks. Or that she'd never — in her entire marriage — had a fight with her husband.

Today, savvier and more experienced, she's much more careful, says Donna Sytek, former New Hampshire House speaker and chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

"I remember standing with her at the polls ... and I was saying something mildly critical, and she said, 'Watch out for the microphones, they are very sensitive! They have booms, be aware!' " Sytek recalls.

Mrs. Romney also comes across as warmer and less wooden than her husband. She has emerged as a kind of "Mitt-igator," making the case that "the real Mitt" is not who people think.

"There's a wild and crazy man inside of there," she laughed on CBS in May.

'A Forever Job'

Politics is not new to the former Ann Davies. Her father was a mayor in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She was with Mitt Romney when his father, George Romney, was governor of Michigan and running for president, and when his mother, Lenore Romney, ran for U.S. Senate. In the 1970s, Ann Romney herself ran for Town Meeting in Belmont, Mass., and won.

But her real passion and focus has been raising her five sons.

"My career choice was to be a mother," she explained on Fox News after she was criticized by a Democrat for not working "a day in her life." Romney explained, as she often does on the stump, that both she and her husband believed her work at home to be most important.

"He was making money ... and he would come home and say, 'Ann, my job is temporary, but your job is a forever job that's going to bring forever happiness.' "

By all accounts, Mrs. Romney was a hands-on mom. She barely hired the nannies or domestic help she certainly could have, according to Wheelwright, her friend from church.

"They painted their own house; they worked in their yard, sweating and dirty," Wheelwright says. "And they just both felt so strongly that, 'We don't have someone in there cleaning their bedrooms and doing the dishes for them, because that's what they should do.' "

Romney did volunteer work in the community and for her church, such as teaching an early morning seminary for high school kids.

"She taught the Old Testament, and then the New Testament, and then the Book of Mormon," says Wheelwright, whose own sons attended the classes. "Those kids — every morning at 6:15 — were there for 45 minutes, and the kids loved her."

Finding Her Faith

Ann Romney herself was brought up with little organized religion by her Welsh immigrant father and her mother, whose family goes back to the Mayflower. She started learning about Mormonism in high school, while dating Romney, and decided, as a teenager, to convert.

Gov. George Romney tutored her and baptized her, while Mitt was doing missionary work in France, and she married Mitt shortly after he returned.

"Her mom and dad [were] not happy about this at all," says Romney biographer and distant cousin R.B. Scott.

Ann Romney may be traditional, but she's always been willing to buck convention — and her parents, he says. One example was when her mother — a fervent believer in zero population growth — objected to the Romneys' ever-growing family.

"Her mom began to complain about, 'You've drunk the Kool-Aid, the Mormon Kool-Aid, you're having a big family ... you're destroying the Earth.' Ann apparently said, 'OK, Mom, I want to maintain a relationship with you, but if this continues — we're not going to have a relationship.' "

It is perhaps a testament to her sway that Ann Romney's two brothers both converted to Mormonism shortly after her, and so did even her mother, shortly before her death.

"When she decides something, I don't think anything stops her," Wheelwright says.

A 'Dark Hole'

And it's also how Ann Romney approached the biggest challenge she's faced, when she was suddenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998.

"Those were scary, horrible, hard, hard years," recalls Wheelwright. "There's no doubt they were afraid."

Romney talks about it openly now. She described to ABC what she called the "dark hole" she was in.

"I can't stand to even be reminded of how sick I was," she said. "It wasn't just the feeling sick. It's the unknown of — 'Where is this taking me? And how long is this going to go on? And is it going to drag me down so much that I have nothing left in life at all?'"

Eventually, through sheer will, and some alternative therapies, Romney beat her MS into remission and built herself back up to the point where she became a champion equestrian.

Romney says dressage — a sport sometimes referred to as "horse ballet" — saved her life. Democrats point to the arcane pursuit, in which riders in top hats prance and pirouette on horseback, as proof that Romney is elitist and out of touch.

But it's a contention Romney vigorously denies.

"Look, maybe I haven't struggled as much financially as some people have," she said recently on Fox News. "[But] I can tell you — and promise you — that I've had struggles in my life, and Mitt and I have compassion for people that are struggling."

A 'Ferocious' Defender

Romney says her priorities as first lady would be helping to find a cure for multiple sclerosis — and breast cancer, which she also survived. And she says she would continue her work with at-risk children and against teen pregnancy.

Romney has said publicly that she doesn't agree with her husband on every issue.

But Wheelwright says she can't imagine Romney trying to get mixed up in policy decisions.

"She would certainly be willing to share any of her feelings if Mitt asked her, but she's a smart lady ... I think she knows her place."

That is, as a trusted adviser, on everything from strategy to selecting a vice president.

She is so much a part of the team, she speaks in terms of "we." And she couldn't be more passionate about her role promoting and protecting her husband, as she was recently when condemning the Obama campaign for a strategy she said was centered on personal attacks.

"We heard what their strategy was — it was 'Kill Romney,' " she told CBS News in July, "and I was like, 'Not when I'm next to him you better not!' "

"She is ferocious about defending Mitt," says Malone, the former Massachusetts treasurer. "I think it's very much like Nancy Reagan, where she would put her antenna up and watching the vibe, and I think Ann Romney [is] very in tune with what's going on around Mitt."

Perhaps her most important role is just being there. Mrs. Romney says her family calls her the "Mitt Stabilizer." Her husband would be the first to agree that he's better when she's with him.

"If I'm away from Ann for longer than a week or so, I get off course," he told CNN's Piers Morgan. "She has to bring me back and moderate me down a bit."

"If you watch him when he goes into a room, he is always looking around to see where Ann is, [asking] 'Where's Ann?' " says Scott, the Romney biographer. "There is this connection between the two that is intense, and she provides the anchor and the confidence that he needs."

More than 45 years after they started dating, he still introduces her as "my sweetheart." Given where she's come from, she calls it nothing less than a miracle to be out on the stump, hoping her high school sweetheart will also be the next president.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Long before Congressman Paul Ryan joined the ticket, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney got a big assist from another running mate, his wife Ann. Throughout the Republican primaries, no candidate's spouse was more visible on the stump. Her role was also something of a surprise. Mrs. Romney overcame serious illness and a distaste for politicking to campaign for her husband.

In our series Parallel Lives, comparing Mitt Romney and President Obama, we focus now on their wives.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports now on Mrs. Romney, the kind of partner she's been and the first lady she'd like to be.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: If you want to see how much Mitt and Ann Romney consider themselves a team, check out his official portrait at the Massachusetts Statehouse. He's the first governor to request that his wife be included beside him. He's posing beside a framed picture of her.

By all accounts, the Romneys consult each other on everything. So after a bruising campaign in 2008, it looked like that might be it for Mitt.

ANN ROMNEY: I said, I am never doing this again.

SMITH: As resolute as Ann Romney was then, she was equally firm, just two years later, that her husband simply had to run again.

ROMNEY: That means you jump off the cliff again. There're not many people that can save this country and turn it around. It needs a turnaround.

MARGARET WHEELWRIGHT: She told me, she says, you know, I just felt when I was praying one night that, you know what, he could make a difference,

SMITH: Margaret Wheelwright became close friends with Mrs. Romney in the early 1970s at church,

WHEELWRIGHT: She encouraged him because of how she felt after she prayed. And she felt like that the Lord said, you know what, you stick behind him because he can do it.

ROMNEY: Thank you, Puerto Rico.

(APPLAUSE)

SMITH: Today, Mrs. Romney has gone from a Massachusetts first lady most voters wouldn't recognize to practically a co-candidate.

ROMNEY: I love Michigan. I love Michigan.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We love you.

(APPLAUSE)

JOE MALONE: I think of Ann Romney as the fire in the fire-and-ice relationship between her and Mitt.

SMITH: Former Massachusetts state treasurer Joe Malone, a Republican, has known Ann Romney since 1994, when her husband first ran for U.S. Senate.

MALONE: She has gone from the wife who was happy to be supportive of the husband and just keep him company in the car, to an opinionated woman who's highly valued, and then, on top of that, someone who's a very effective communicator for the campaign.

ROMNEY: We are going to take back America and we're going to let this guy do it.

(APPLAUSE)

SMITH: Dynamic, down-to-earth and poised, Mrs. Romney rarely stumbles now as she did years ago, for example, when she said she and her husband were so poor as students, they had to sell some of their stocks, or that they'd never had a fight since they married. Now savvier and more experienced, she's showing voters a warmer, less wooden Romney and making the case, as she did on CBS, that the real Mitt is not so stiff either.

ROMNEY: There's a wild and crazy man inside of there.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, we see the wild and crazy. Then watch out.

SMITH: Politics is not new to her. Ann Davies' father was a mayor in Michigan and she and Mitt Romney were together when his father was governor of Michigan and running for president. In the 1970s, Ann Romney herself won election to Town Meeting. But her real focus has been raising her five sons.

ROMNEY: My career choice was to be a mother, and I think...

SMITH: Speaking on Fox News after she was dissed by a Democrat for not working a day in her life, Mrs. Romney said both she and her husband believed her work at home to be most important.

ROMNEY: He would come home and say, Ann, my job is temporary. Your job is a forever job that's going to bring forever happiness.

SMITH: Mrs. Romney was a hands-on mom, barely hiring nannies or domestic help, according to her friend Margaret Wheelwright.

WHEELWRIGHT: Both felt so strongly that, we don't have someone in there cleaning their bedrooms and doing the dishes for them because that's what they should do.

SMITH: Romney did volunteer work in the community and for her church, for example, teaching an early morning seminary for high school kids.

WHEELWRIGHT: She taught the Old Testament and then the New Testament, and then the Book of Mormon. And those kids, every morning at 6:15, were there for 45 minutes. And the kids loved her.

SMITH: Ann Romney herself was brought up with little organized religion by her Welsh immigrant father and her mother, whose family goes back to the Mayflower. She started learning about Mormonism in high school, while dating Mitt Romney, and decided to convert. She was tutored her and baptized by Governor George Romney while Mitt was doing missionary work in France. And she married Mitt shortly after he returned.

R.B. SCOTT: And her mom and dad are not happy about this at all.

SMITH: R.B. Scott is a Romney biographer and distant cousin. He says Ann Romney may be traditional, but she's always been willing to buck convention and her parents. For example, when her mom - a fervent believer in zero population growth - objected to the Romneys' ever-growing family.

SCOTT: Her mom began to complain about, you've drunk the Kool-Aid and the Mormon Kool-Aid, you're having a big family and you're destroying the Earth. And Ann apparently said, OK, Mom, you know, I want to maintain a relationship with you, but if this continues we're not going to have a relationship.

WHEELWRIGHT: When she decides something, I don't think anything stops her.

SMITH: Friend Margaret Wheelwright says it's also how Mrs. Romney approached the biggest challenge she's faced, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998.

ROMNEY: I can't stand to even be reminded of how sick I was...

SMITH: Mrs. Romney talks about it openly now, for example, describing on ABC what she called the dark hole she was in.

ROMNEY: So, it wasn't just feeling sick. It's the unknown of where is this taking me and how long is this going to go on. And...

SMITH: Eventually, through the help of some alternative therapies, Mrs. Romney beat her MS into remission and built herself back up to the point where she became a champion equestrian. Mrs. Romney says dressage, a kind of horse ballet saved her life. Democrats point to the arcane sport, where riders in top hats prance and pirouette on horseback, as more proof that Mrs. Romney is elitist and out of touch.

But as she did on Fox News, Mrs. Romney dismisses the idea that she can't relate.

ROMNEY: Look, maybe I haven't struggled as much financially as some people have. I can tell you and promise you that I've had struggles in my life. And Mitt and I have compassion for people that are struggling.

SMITH: Mrs. Romney says her priorities as first lady would be to help find a cure for MS and breast cancer, which she also survived. And she says she'd continue her work with at-risk children and against teen pregnancy.

But friend, Margaret Wheelwright says she can't imagine Mrs. Romney trying to get mixed up in policy.

WHEELWRIGHT: She would certainly be willing to share any of her feelings if Mitt asked her. But she's a smart lady. She knows her place.

SMITH: That is, as a trusted adviser, on everything from strategy to selecting a vice president and, as she's called herself, a Mitt stabilizer. As Romney told CNN's Piers Morgan, he's way better when she's with him.

MITT ROMNEY: If I'm away from Ann for longer than a week or so, I get off course. She has to bring me back and moderate me down a bit.

SCOTT: There is this connection between the two that is intense, and she provides the anchor and the confidence that he needs.

SMITH: Again, Romney biographer R.B. Scott.

SCOTT: If you watch him when he goes into a room, he's always looking around to see where Ann is. Where's Ann?

ROMNEY: My sweetheart, Ann Romney.

SMITH: Given where she's come from...

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: Wow, this is fabulous.

SMITH: Mrs. Romney calls it nothing less than a miracle to be standing on a stage supporting her high school sweetheart, who she hopes will also be the next president.

Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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