Ann Romney has been through a presidential campaign before. That experience has given her some perspective on the current tumultuous race. In a phone interview on the day before the Iowa caucuses, she seemed remarkably calm.
She told me, “I’m at peace.” Indeed, both the Romneys seem to be more relaxed and to be enjoying themselves this time around. I asked her if her husband was looser than in 2008. “I would say that’s the case for both of us,” she replied. Making a ski analogy, she said, “We know where the moguls are.” This time they are “staying in their lanes,” she explained. “We understand there are a lot of things that are out of our control. We are who we are.”
Unlike the spouses, who often go hammer and tongs at one another, she told me the wives of candidates often share a common bond. In 2008, she said, “I had a very nice relationship with Elizabeth Edwards. We both shared difficult health situations.” This time around the spouses provide some mutual support at debates. Although their husbands have often been at odds, Romney told me, “I am quite fond of Anita Perry. We were both first ladies [of their states] at the same time.” She also singles out Rep. Ron Paul’s wife, Carol. She said, “We reminisced [in this election] that we don’t like the debates.” She described the relationship as a “shared kinship.”
I asked her if she had thought about what causes she would take on as first lady if her husband is elected. She laughed. “I honestly don’t think that far ahead, but people like you force me to!” She singled out her work with at-risk youth in inner-city Boston when her husband was governor. She said, “I realized people were making a huge difference in people’s lives.” She cited the work of the Black Ministerial Alliance. She said that in evaluating the youth programs that were successful, “the common denominator was the fact that they could could communicate that God loves them.” Her own organization, Faith and Action Committee, exemplifies the sort of work she would continue as first lady if her husband is elected.
But of course her own health issues provide a constant connection to voters. She said that on the campaign trail, “Everywhere I go people come up asking about MS.” As first lady, she would “have a huge concern about bringing attention to and provide funding to find a cure for MS.”
Multiple sclerosis also brought her back to her childhood love of horses. “I was a horse-crazy girl,” she recollected. She rode with her two brothers. But, she recalled, “it turned out I was the only one to clean the stall, feed them and exercise them every day. I did it by myself from the time I was about 10.” She stopped riding after high school. But when she was diagnosed with MS at age 49 and found she was losing her balance and the use of her right leg, she thought she would go back to her childhood pastime, “before I couldn’t do it anymore.” She found that the riding “really, really helped” her balance and strength. She’s now a competitive equestrian.
She and her husband appear ever optimistic about the future of America. She told me, “We believe in the principles that have made America unique.” She then shared, “We both came from immigrant families.” She comes from Welsh miners, and she recalled that Mitt Romney’s father was among those in the American colony in Mexico ejected by Pancho Villa. “They came with nothing,” she said matter-of-factly. She told me that their desire to ensure that the “American dream and the possibility of America stay alive” for others that fuels their outlook.
Ann Romney is plainly one of her husband’s strongest assets. Her ability to relate both her personal health issues and their families’ origins are effective in helping to humanize a candidate who’s often viewed as a remote, rich guy. If it’s true that Americans elect a couple to the White House, Mitt Romney certainly has an ace in the hole.