[...] The 63-year-old mother of five and grandmother to 18 has emerged as an important humanizing force for Romney on the campaign trail. While the presumptive Republican nominee can come across as stiff and awkward on the stump, Ann charms the crowd with personal stories, casting her husband in a softer light. At a rally in Michigan on Friday she choked up while expressing gratitude that so many supporters in her home state had shown up. "Mitt and I grew up here, we fell in love here, and this is a special place for us," she said.
Despite her ongoing struggle with multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with in 1998, Ann has attended hundreds of campaign events and often comes across as having more energy on the stump than her husband. She was at her husband's side at virtually every rally during the long primary—working the rope line alongside her spouse and often delivering a mini stump speech of her own.
In one instance, she tells the story of being a stay-at-home mom in charge of five "very naughty" sons when her husband, then a consultant with Bain Capital, was traveling. "He would call home, and he'd hear a very exasperated wife at the end of the phone," Ann said during a rally in South Carolina in January. "And he'd remind me to hang in there. It would be okay, that actually my job was more important than his job. And the cool thing was he meant it."
"You couldn't pay me to do this again"
Ann now seems so skilled and smooth in interviews it's hard to believe that she is actually something of a comeback kid, politically speaking.
During her husband's unsuccessful bid for a Massachusetts Senate seat, the Boston Globe blasted her in a scorched-earth profile that portrayed her as a chatty, over-privileged woman living a life so perfect it bordered on creepy. The two lines from the interview that most haunted the campaign: Ann's insistence that she and her Ken-doll-looking husband had never once had a fight during their marriage; and her statement that the couple was "struggling" when Mitt was getting his graduate degrees at Harvard. The two were supporting themselves by selling off American Motors stock given to Mitt by his wealthy father—something that didn't exactly resonate with voters working two jobs to survive. ("Mitt was still in school and we had no income except the stock we were chipping away at. We were living on the edge, not entertaining. No, I did not work. Mitt thought it was important for me to stay home with the children, and I was delighted," she said at the time.)
In an article titled "Daughter of Privilege Knows Little of Real World," the Boston Herald ripped off the most unflattering of the Globe's quotes. The experience left Ann incredibly angry, she later admitted. When a reporter asked her after her husband's defeat whether she would ever help him launch another race, she retorted: "Never. You couldn't pay me to do this again."
Writer Ron Scott, a Mormon who wrote MITT ROMNEY: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politicsand who lived in the same stake—sort of the Mormon version of a diocese—as the Romneys, said he remembers "gasping" when he first read the Globe profile, instantly recognizing it as a disaster. But now, Scott thinks the incident just shows how fully Romney trusted his wife—for good or for bad. Despite her political inexperience, her husband was willing to let Ann do an hour-long one-on-one interview without media training or a PR team to hold her hand. And Ann was happy to take that risk, confident she could come out on top.
Perhaps that assurance was misplaced at the time, but it seems fitting now.
"She looks...like she's enjoying the campaign," Scott said. "I think if you were to contrast between now and '94, I don't think she really enjoyed that campaign or the 2008 one, but this time around I think she really looks like she's come alive." [...]