When Mitt Romney stopped in Iowa for a town hall-style meeting the day before Thanksgiving, as Newt Gingrich’s surge was solidifying in the polls, a woman stood to ask Romney what single thing set him apart from his Republican competition.
“Umm…,” Romney said, thinking for a moment. “The most extraordinary wife in the world.”
The audience of several hundred inside an insurance company’s offices in downtown Des Moines immediately applauded. And Romney went on to describe his four-decade love affair with Ann Romney – how they met in the basement of a high school friend’s house, how he gave her a ride home that night and they shared their first kiss, how they’ve been “going steady ever since.”
No reporters, and probably very few voters, recognized the subtle message Romney may have been trying to send with his answer. But the exchange seems especially prescient now, a week later, as Politico reported that the Romney campaign is planning to highlight his stable family life in an effort to draw an unspoken contrast with Gingrich’s two divorces.
At the Des Moines event, Romney recounted her struggles with multiple sclerosis and said: “She’s a fighter and my hero, and if there’s any one thing that distinguishes me from everybody else, it’s that person that I share my life with.”
To be sure, Romney has spoken this way about his wife throughout his public life, and Ann has always been a presence in his campaigns. To suggest a strategy at play may be reading too much into his comments in Iowa.
The couple will appear on the cover of Parade Magazine this Sunday, distributed in newspapers nationally. And Romney’s latest television advertisements in New Hampshire and Iowa close with a black-and-white photograph of the two holding hands.
Each time Ann Romney accompanies her husband to campaign events, there is noticeable chemistry between them on stage, and the audience reaction tends to be as strong if not stronger for her.
At his announcement speech this June in Stratham, N.H., Ann Romney introduced Mitt, after which he said: “What a day, and what a woman! She is my champion in life.”
In September, when Mitt Romney addressed a conference of Michigan Republicans at Mackinac Island, Mich., he and Ann began by recounting a trip they took to the island once as teenagers.
“I fell in love with Mitt, up here in Mackinac,” Ann said.
At that, people in the ballroom of the Grand Hotel began clinking their glasses. The crowd wanted them to smooch on stage. Ann turned to her husband and said, “We’re not going to do an Al Gore moment.” But kiss they did.