Since Labor Day, Michelle Obama and Ann Romney have been all over the airwaves–morning, daytime and late night TV shows–and have given countless print interviews. They’ve also been speechifying, fundraising and supporting the heck out of their spouses, especially in swing states.
Each is running hard, laser focusing on women, seniors, students and key ethnic voting blocs, using everything from cookie recipes to personal anecdotes to sell their husband as the next president.
Since candidates’ wives generally do little more than allude to foreign and domestic policy, leaving details to the principals and their surrogates, any compare-and-contrast analysis of these two very different women necessarily must skew toward the soft and frothy.
As you watch Michelle Obama and Ann Romney in what is likely their last joint appearance at the Monday night debate, herewith a guide to where they came from and who they’ve become. We care about them–and yes, we still marvel that both wore hot pink to their husbands’ finger-pointing town hall face-off last week–because come Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2013, one of them will be chatelaine of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, age 48. Born Jan. 17, 1964 in Chicago, Capricorn.
Ann Lois Davies Romney, 63. Born April 16, 1949 in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Aries.
Ann: Mitt Stabilizer
Michelle Obama: Harvard Law School, 1988; Princeton University, ’85, Sociology; Whitney Young High School, ’81 (public).
Ann Romney: Brigham Young University, 1975, French Studies, via Harvard Extension night classes; Kingswood School, ’67 (private)
First movie date with future mate
M: Spike Lee’s gritty, urban “Do The Right Thing”
A: Rogers & Hammerstein’s feel-good “The Sound of Music”
M: 1992 at age 28 to Chicago law firm colleague Barack Obama, 31
A: 1969 at age 19 to Michigan high school sweetheart Mitt Romney, 22
M: Daughters Malia Ann, 14, and Natasha, aka Sasha, 11
A: Sons Tagg, 42; Matt, 40; Josh, 37; Ben, 34 and Craig, 31, plus 18 grandkids
Previous day jobs
M: Attorney; University of Chicago Hospitals community affairs chief; director of a non-profit that trained young adults for public service; aide to legendary Chicago Mayor Richard Daley the elder.
A: First lady of Massachusetts; volunteer and board member at assorted charities; stay-at-home mother; brief, early stint as an interior decorator.
M: As FLOTUS, helping military families; fighting childhood obesity through exercise and nutrition programs. She will continue this work if her husband is re-elected.
A: As FLOMass, was a Children’s Trust Fund board member and Mitt’s liaison to Bush 41’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Told ABC News she’ll work with at-risk youth if Romney wins.
M: Storied high-low wardrobe includes Isabel Toledo, Do-Ri Chung, Jason Wu, Tracy Reese, H&M and J Crew. Has been slammed for such pricey duds such as a $6,800 J. Mendel jacket worn to Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s pre-Olympics fete, and for not exclusively wearing American designers. Personal aide Meredith Koop gives style advice, and, when she can, negotiates discounts, FLOTUS spokeswoman Kristina Schake told the Post. Obama is the first first lady in at least three decades not to wear Oscar de la Renta.
A: Has collected New York-based designer Alfred Fiandaca for years, mostly bought at his Boston shop: suits, dresses and that black, laser-cut leather biker babe skirt and jacket worn for a recent Jay Leno drop-by. On the stump she favors comfy shirtwaists and separates, bright colors, bold prints and chunky jewelry. Goes high-end when it counts, winning raves for Oscar’s $1,990 scarlet silk dress worn during her GOP convention speech, but taking a hit in May for her $990 Reed Krakoff bird-printed t-shirt. The campaign does not discuss her clothing, so it is not known if Romney has a style adviser or discount wrangler.
M: Kitten heels, vivid pumps, boots, flats and those $540 Lanvin sneaks she sported while volunteering at a D.C. food bank.
A: Riding boots, flats, heels. Wore Stuart Weitzman black peep-toes for her convention speech, which she either loaned to Janna Ryan the next night and reclaimed a day later, as New York magazine surmised, or Ryan owns the very same kicks.
She Said…But She Also Said
M: First came her 2007-08 cringe-inducing over-sharing about candidate Obama’s sloth, i.e. he’s “snore-y” and “stinky” in the morning.
Today she’s totally on message: “Teachers and firefighters shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires…Because of health care, insurance companies have to cover basic preventative care: Yes, things like contraception, cancer screenings and prenatal care, at no extra cost.”
A: In September she declared, “I’m hearing from so many women that may not have considered voting for a Republican before, that said it’s time for the grown-up to come, the man that’s going to take this very seriously.”
In an April video designed to make Mitt seem less stuffy, she noted: “I hate to say it but often I had more than five sons. I had six sons and he would be as mischievous and naughty as the other boys.”
M: Regular cardio and strength workouts with a trainer; also plays tennis.
A: Competitive and theraputic dressage–she’s won national gold and silver medals in what is sometimes called “horse ballet”–plus acupuncture and reflexology to manage her MS, which ended her tennis game.
M: White and dark chocolate chip cookies with a hint of mint, her entry in Family Circle magazine’s quadrennial FLOTUS confection poll.
A: Peanut butter and oatmeal M&M cookies for Family Circle, plus Welsh skillet cakes from her paternal granny’s recipe.
Let us pray
M: Christian. Like Bush 43, the Obamas have not joined a Washington church, but occasionally visit congregations here and while on vacation. The White House has said the family also worships at the Camp David chapel. These days, churches are campaign stops to fire up the base.
A: Her mother called the family Episcopalian, but Ann became a Mormon at 16 after meeting Mitt, whose family claims several generations of leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Mitt’s father George Romney oversaw her conversion.
M: The White House, Camp David and a south side Chicago home bought in 2005 for $1.65 million, plus another $104,500 for an adjoining slice of yard purchased from Obama donor Tony Rezko, now in prison for bipartisan bribery and corruption.
A: An $8 million getaway on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, N.H., and a $12 million oceanfront Spanish-style villa in La Jolla, Ca. Mitt used the real estate bust to get the assessment cut to $7 million to save on property taxes. Their smallest place is a two-bedroom townhouse in Belmont, Mass., bought in 2010 for $895,000, reports Zillow.com; they sold the seven-bedroom Belmont home where they raised the kids for $3.5 million.
M: No elite Martha’s Vineyard holiday for the Obamas this past summer–bad election optics after three previous visits to a $50,000-a-week rental they paid for personally. FLOTUS, who draws ongoing GOP heat for costly, taxpayer-subsidized domestic and foreign jaunts, took the girls to London to cheer for Team USA at the Olympics.
A: Pricey homes on both coasts simplify vacation planning, including July’s Wolfeboro gathering of all 30 Romneys. Meanwhile LaJolla renovation plans that could quadruple the home’s size–and include an underground garage with vehicle elevators—may have been tabled owing to some neighborhood opposition.
Hubby’s domestic quotient
M: During the last campaign, she busted POTUS for failing to put away the butter or pick up his socks. Still, the girls are said to love Dad’s chili.
A: Seeking to everyman-ize Mitt, she revealed that he did his own laundry and ironed his shirts. He’s the family pancake chef.
M: Bo, the Portuguese water dog, a gift from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who creamed Romney by a decisive 17 points in a 1994 challenge.
A: Who remembers the family’s Bichon, Weimaraner or golden retriever of recent years? Who hasn’t heard of Seamus, the Irish setter, crated and carried on the car roof for that 12-hour drive to Canada in 1983.
M: Joint net worth is between $2.6 million and $8.3 million, including royalties from his memoir, “Dreams of My Father.” They have made public their tax returns dating to 2000.
A: Joint net worth ranging from $190 million to $250 million, including accounts in the tax havens of Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. She opposed releasing anything but the couple’s 2010 and estimated 2011 returns, but in September the Romney campaign released the actual 2011 records.
Dumbest thing said about her
M: “If you are going to tell everybody to eat twigs and berries and gravel and all this other stuff, you had better look like an Ethiopian, you had better look like that’s what you eat.” –Radio host Rush Limbaugh.
A: “Guess what? She has actually never worked a day in her life.” Democratic activist and CNN pundit Hilary Rosen on why the mother of five was unqualified to tout her husband’s economic promises to women.
Annie Groer, a former Washington Post and PoliticsDaily.com reporter and columnist has also written for the New York Times, Town & Country and Atlantic.com. She specializes in politics, culture, design and 21st century manners and is at work on a memoir.