Ann Romney emerging as husband's political weapon

By Steve Peoples

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 19 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this Jan. 29, 2012, file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and his wife Ann work on their iPads on their campaign bus as it travels to Hialeah, Fla.

Charles Dharapak, File, Associated Press

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BOSTON — She is a 63-year-old grandmother known as "Mamie," a former stay-at-home mother of five boys, and the cookie-baking wife of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. But do not be fooled: Republicans and Democrats alike see Ann Romney as an effective political weapon.

The nation is only just beginning to meet the woman Mitt Romney calls "my sweetheart." And as the general election spotlight burns brighter, the Romney campaign is leveraging Ann Romney's natural ability to connect with voters in a way her husband cannot. Already, she is becoming a fundraising powerhouse and chief aggressor in her husband's push to court women.

President Barack Obama's team quietly acknowledges the threat it faces from the Romney who is sweet, unassuming and, at times, unusually willing to share bathroom humor.

To be sure, people who know her well have long viewed her as a political force.

"I realized that at some point the rest of the world was going to take notice, too," said Tagg Romney, 42, the eldest of the Romneys' children. "I think that day has come."

The Romney campaign insists that Ann Romney's intense schedule hasn't significantly changed since December, the height of the primary campaign.

Despite health concerns, she spent the vast majority of those days and nights living in the buses, planes and hotels that define the less glamorous necessities of presidential politics. Her public role in the 2012 presidential contest so far exceeds that of other GOP candidates' spouses.

She is still largely unknown. Quinnipiac University found this week that 64 percent of registered voters don't know enough about her to form an opinion; 25 percent view her favorably compared with 9 percent who do not.

But her profile is growing. And donors and national media outlets alike are clamoring for her time.

Ann Romney headlined a New York City birthday fundraiser this week with Donald Trump that generated more than a half-million dollars for her husband's campaign. The same day she taped a television interview for "Entertainment Tonight." She and her husband also taped their first nationally televised interview as a couple with Diane Sawyer of ABC News.

"Four years ago I said I would never do this again — was pretty emphatic about that. Because it is a stressful time and my hearts go out to anyone that participates in this event," she told Sawyer.

As Mitt Romney often tells supporters, his wife ultimately came around and helped persuade him to run again. She has since embraced a central role in helping the campaign confront her husband's political challenges great and small. In some ways, it's the same supportive role she has always played in a marriage that's spanned 43 years.

But never has her role been this public.

Several times a week on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney shares how they first crossed paths at a Michigan elementary school but didn't start dating until high school. He introduces his wife as his "sweetheart," regularly holds her hand and beams when she introduces him at rallies.

Her mere presence seems to help relax her husband, who sometimes struggles to shed a plastic image. They are not shy about public affection, and he regularly squeezes his wife's hand, even when the cameras are not rolling.

On national television this week, Ann Romney defended her husband's decades-old decision to travel with the family dog strapped in his carrier to the car roof, suggesting that the dog "loved" the experience. She has also become the campaign's leading voice in the struggle to win over female voters.

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