Ann Romney Steps to Fore To Soften Spouse’s Image

By: Wall Street Journal


SIOUX CENTER, Iowa — After a 10-minute stump speech in a mall food court here last week, Mitt Romney announced it was time for his wife, Ann, to talk. “She’s better than I am,” he said.

Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is often criticized for being too polished and too staged. And now, as he is locked in a slash-and-burn fight against his principal rivals, he increasingly comes across as nasty as well — though even his nastiness seems well-rehearsed.

Mr. Romney’s wife of 38 years provides heart to her husband’s head-driven campaign. More candid and spontaneous in her remarks, Mrs. Romney talks openly about many subjects, from her struggles with depression after her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis to what it was like to raise five sons with a workaholic husband.

“Mitt is so very polished and professional in his demeanor. I think it’s a little scary for some people,” said Carole McCurley, a 65-year-old mother of three from Missouri Valley, Iowa, who is undecided but leaning toward Mr. Romney. “I found her refreshingly, delightfully common.”

The 2008 campaign is the cycle of the superstar political spouse. Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill, is as big a draw as she is. Michelle Obama repeatedly makes news with her appearances in Iowa. Elizabeth Edwards gets heavy attention for campaigning while battling terminal cancer and has taken on the role as her husband’s blunter partner, lashing out at critics in ways too impolitic for the candidate himself.

For much of the campaign, Mrs. Romney was more in the background, largely focused on her own events. Even when she appeared with her husband, she would speak only briefly, if at all.

Now, with her husband’s once-solid Iowa lead gone on the eve of the caucus, Mrs. Romney has become more prominent. She is juggling both his events and her own. When appearing with him, she usually offers an introduction, and every few stops she will take the microphone at the end of the event to deliver the closing argument.

It is a crucial supplement to a candidate who seems to need humanizing. Mr. Romney’s persona is in some ways similar to Mrs. Clinton’s on the Democratic side, a politician seen as calculating and sometimes too impersonal. Mrs. Clinton has addressed those concerns by emphasizing her personal, feminine side. Mr. Romney has played up his wife.

Mrs. Romney is anything but a plain Jane. Holding the microphone, often with two hands, she reveals perfectly manicured fingernails and a sparkling diamond ring. She is 58 years old, though easily looks younger, and often wears bright pink lipstick. The wife of a millionaire investor, she has a wealthy June Cleaver air about her. Her biography on her campaign Web site, which includes a recipe for Welsh Skillet Cakes, harkens back to the 1950s. “Ann Romney places primary importance on her role as a wife, a mother, and a grandmother,” the first sentence reads.
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Other political spouses empathize with voters by talking of the struggles of balancing career and family: Mrs. Edwards as a lawyer, Mrs. Obama as a hospital executive. Mrs. Romney has volunteered extensively outside the home but never worked as a professional. As a political spouse, she seems at times a throwback to Mamie Eisenhower.

Mrs. Romney parallels Mrs. Edwards in the central role her disease plays in the public image of her husband’s campaign. Mrs. Romney is at her most candid, and most effective, when she talks about her battle with MS. She was diagnosed in 1998 and became severely fatigued nearly overnight, her right side completely numb. Now in remission, Mrs. Romney uses strong language — “I felt like my life was over” and “my darkest hour” — to describe those days.

It is a sharp contrast to Mrs. Edwards, who talks about her personal struggle of living with cancer as a launching-off point to discuss the details of her husband’s health-care plan. When Mrs. Edwards reveals private pain, it isn’t about her disease but about the death of her teenage son in a car accident.

Mrs. Romney also helps her husband by appearing to help allay voter fears about her family’s Mormon religion. She converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before her marriage in 1969. “I did not grow up in these big Mormon families with all these kids,” she said just before Christmas on the stump in New Hampshire.

She often tells audiences that she had never held a baby until she had her first son, Tagg, in 1970 when she and her husband were undergraduates at Brigham Young University. Mr. Romney, who had ample practice as an uncle, taught her how to hold a baby, change diapers and later how to feed their son. “He comes in handy,” she said with a laugh.

Steve Breen, a Romney supporter from Iowa and a Reformed Church of America pastor, said she helps emphasize the family values of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We have in common a commitment to family,” he said. “Those of the Mormon tradition share those same types of things. She’s a very good spokesman for that.”

Write to Elizabeth Holmes at

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