I spoke to Ann Romney by phone as her son Josh was driving her to the airport from a Fox News spot.
What was her initial reaction when she heard the comment by Hilary Rosen?
“I was a little bit stunned,” she said. With a slight laugh, but no venom she told me, “Does she think women at home don’t work?”
Despite the public tweets from President Obama’s advisers and Rosen, no one has called her to apologize — not the campaign, not the White House and not Rosen. She resists playing the victim. “I am okay,” she said. “I have a thick skin.” She even jokes that raising five boys was “a lot tougher” than anything Rosen is going to dish out.
As for her husband, she recounts the top-level women he has worked with at Bain, the Olympics and as governor. She ticks off the women who have been his No.2 person and/or successor in each job including both his lieutenant governor (now campaign policy chief) and chief of staff as governor. She told me, “he had more women in his cabinet than any governor in the country.” She said that those with doubts about her husband should “look at his life and career and who he surrounded himself with.”
She was careful not to overplay her hand. Is Rosen representative of how liberals regard stay-at-home mothers? “Obviously people out there have these opinions, but it is not necessarily all Democrats.”
She also pushed back against the notion that a presidential candidate should carve up the electorate and devise specific policies to win their votes. She said, “Mitt is of the opinion he is helping all men and women. If special things are needed [for women] I am sure he will address them.” She added the Romney mantra: “Women are hurting the most” in Obama’s economy. She told me that at campaign events she talks to many women one-on-one. “I am very curious what they say. Almost universally what they say first is, ‘I’m praying for you.’ I find that very touching.” She continued, “Next they say, ‘He [Mitt] has to save the country.’ Then they tell their individual story. If it’s an older woman with a few more gray hairs, they are really upset that their children will be overburdened [with debt]. They see America in decline.” She added, “This is what is unique. People think the next generation will be worse off. That’s not America!”
I asked her if the president is trying to pit one group against another, as some conservatives have charged. “We want to be talking about turning this country around,” she said. “We want a positive message.” Declining to criticize the president she said, “We do not want to divide or blame. I better leave it at that.”
This may be the first presidential campaign in which the spouse is more helpful than the VP. It’s hard to imagine Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) or even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) being as relentlessly on message, cheery and disarming. As difficult as it is for Romney to bond with voters, he has the benefit of a wife who is doing that better than any candidate on either ticket. The question remains: Can she transfer that blossoming rapport with the voters to her husband?
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