If Republican voters were half as passionate about Mitt Romney as he seems to be about his wife of 40 years, he’d be feeling a lot more love. Romney set his heart on 16-year-old Ann Davies when he first spied her at a friend’s birthday party. Decades later, she’s the star of “A Love Story,” a video testimonial to her husband as a family man and a leader.
“If you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they’ve lived their life,” Ann Romney says in the three-and-a-half-minute video. “It’s so important to understand the character of a person,” she adds later. “To me that makes a huge difference. Maybe to some voters it doesn’t—but for me it makes a huge difference.”
The video captures her dual roles in the campaign: the classic one as warm spouse who humanizes her husband, and the less-trod ground of occasionally edgy political messenger.
Ann Romney was the one who declared late last month that there would be no more debates for the Romneys. (“If we're going to do another debate, he's going to sit in the audience and watch me,” she told a crowd in Troy, Mich. “And that'll be it.”) And it was Ann who went before national television cameras on Super Tuesday and fiercely dismissed the roiling debates about contraception, abortion, and other social issues—areas that have never been her husband’s forte.
“Do you know what women care about?” she asked. “Women care about jobs. Women care about the economy. They care about their children and they care about the debt. And they're angry and they're furious about the entitlement debt that we're leaving our children."
Those issues are, of course, in her husband’s wheelhouse.
Since the campaign’s early days, Ann been regaling audiences with tales of Mitt as the young, doting father who wanted nothing more than to horse around with his five boys after coming home from work; or Mitt as the devoted husband who said he wouldn’t mind eating peanut-butter sandwiches and cold cereal for the rest of his life after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic debilitating disease.
But she has also delivered tutorials on delegate allocation along with testimonials to her husband’s sterling qualities. And her very presence as a longstanding spouse draws an implicit contrast with thrice-married Newt Gingrich and his history of infidelity.
Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University, said Ann Romney was not a particularly active or high-profile first lady of Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor. “She didn’t emulate someone like Michelle Obama or Rosalyn Carter or even Laura Bush,” Berry said. “She’s certainly an asset, but a small asset because people don’t vote for prospective first ladies, they vote for the candidate.”
There are nevertheless dangers in having such an influential surrogate speaking for a presidential candidate—particularly when she goes off-message. Ann Romney had a moment like that recently on Fox News. “I don't even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing,” she said in an interview when describing her battle with multiple sclerosis.
For a woman whose husband is given to making remarks that underscore his net worth of some $200 million and who recently said his wife drives two Cadillacs, it was an unfortunate addition to the canon of Romney-isms that paint the couple as out of touch. Few remembered the rest of what she said, which was this: "How I measure riches is by the friends I have and the loved ones I have and the people that I care about in my life, and that's where my values are and that's where my riches are.”
The young Mitt Romney was head over heels in love with Ann. As chronicled in The Real Romney, a biography written by two Boston Globe reporters, Romney planned clandestine weekend trips from Stanford University to see his high school sweetheart back in Michigan.
Once he drove straight from California to her doorstep in Bloomfield Hills, arrived drenched in sweat, and dove into her pool fully clothed. At one point Mitt’s father, George Romney, worried about his son’s studies, docked his allowance to discourage the frequent excursions. But Mitt held an auction to sell off all his clothes so he could buy a ticket home.
Decades later, Romney isn’t jumping into pools or auctioning off his clothes, but he does still seem smitten. Introducing Ann at a campaign event in Snellville, Ga., just before Super Tuesday, he said he was happy to hear he had received endorsements that day from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “The person I'm most proud to have next to me, however,” he added, “is this young lady, my sweetheart, Ann.”