STAMFORD, Conn. — In a rare political appearance Monday night, Ann Romney delivered a defiant defense of her years as a stay-at-home mother and described her decision to support a second White House run by her husband, Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee and former Massachusetts governor.
And when it came to the time she spent raising the couple’s five sons, the defense began even before she opened her mouth — an indication that the “mommy wars” won’t be receding from the political spotlight anytime soon.
“Yes, Ann Romney works very hard every day,” Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said to applause as he introduced her at the annual Prescott Bush Awards Dinner.
Then, taking the lectern, Ann Romney delivered an at-times emotional 20-minute address during which she made the case that raising children is indeed hard work and also described her decision to go through “such an emotionally draining thing” as a presidential campaign yet again.
The address, which came on the eve of Connecticut’s Republican primary, is the latest example of Romney taking on a more visible role on the campaign trail — something she had shied away from doing after a rocky introduction to stumping during her husband’s 1994 Senate bid, as BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins recounts.
But as the political battle for women’s votes has intensified — and particularly after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen’s remark that Romney had “never worked a day in her life” — the candidate’s wife has gradually stepped up her presence at campaign events.
Speaking before an estimated 800 attendees gathered Monday night in a ballroom at the downtown Marriott, Romney opened her remarks by reminding the crowd that after her husband’s 2008 loss, she swore never to give her blessing to another political campaign, only to change her mind.
“I will tell you, the sentiment I had four years ago was, ‘I know one thing for certain: I’m never going to do that again,’ ” she said to laughter from the crowd. “And Mitt laughs. He says, ‘You know what, Ann? You say that after every pregnancy.’ And we know how that worked out — we have five sons.”
Four years ago, she said, she and her husband gathered with their children and the family was overwhelmingly in favor of Mitt Romney pursuing a presidential run. But this time, when the Romneys and their sons got together for the holidays in January, “it was quite a different meeting.”
“As a matter of fact, there was only one son that felt strongly that Mitt should go forward, and there was only me that felt that he should go forward,” she said, adding that part of the trouble was the difficulty of seeing a loved one “maligned at times” on the trail.
In the end, Ann Romney said, the decision came down to one question she had for her husband: “Can you fix it?”
“I need to know: Is it too late?” she said. “Has America gone over the proverbial cliff, and we don’t have time to turn things around? . . . And he said, ‘No, it’s getting late, but it’s not too late.’ ”
She then talked about her “extraordinary husband,” who she said stood by her side “in my darkest hour,” when she received diagnoses of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.
At times when she was bedridden, she said, he comforted her when it came to “those things that I actually did physically, to take care of the house, and the children, and the bills, and all the things which — some people think that I didn’t work, but those are the things that I was pretty busy doing.”
At that, the audience roared with applause.
Ann Romney did not mention Rosen by name in the speech, but she added to her defense of staying home to raise her children by noting that that she didn’t have help until she had emergency surgery when her fifth son was born.
She also made a point of mentioning men who raise children — “I love that,” she said — as well as to “some women [who] don’t have a choice.”
“Thank goodness that we value those people, too, and sometimes life isn’t easy for any of us,” she said.
As she closed her remarks, she received another standing ovation when she predicted that “we are going to win in November.”
As is the case with all surrogates, Ann Romney’s stepped-up presence on the campaign trail has meant increased scrutiny — and an increased opportunity for gaffes.
She made no such slip-ups Monday night, although she did note in her speech that campaigning “doesn’t come naturally” and that the main reason she feels compelled to stump on her husband’s behalf is because he views her as an “equal partner,” and vice versa.
“That’s why I’m willing to go out and do these crazy things,” she said to laughter.