TAMPA, Fla. — During what may be the most important week of Mitt Romney's political career, the Republican presidential contender's five sons are sharing family secrets like never before.
They are calling their father "cheap" on national television. They're spilling stories about plane-sick children. And when the cameras are not rolling, they are raising money and giving emotional support to the man who raised them but may need their help now more than ever.
The Romney boys are not exactly boys anymore. They range in age from 31 to 42, with 18 grandchildren between them. And during the week that the nation tunes into the Republican National Convention, the unofficial starting line for the 70-day sprint to Election Day, the Romney sons want America to know their father like they do.
"We will do anything that the campaign asks us to," Romney's eldest son, Tagg, said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
In total, the Romney sons have done about 100 individual media interviews this week. It's an all-out media blitz featuring group interviews with late-night comedians, television network anchors and just about everyone with a camera or tape recorder in between. They tell the story of a practical-joking father, an affectionate husband and a supportive grandfather. It's a side of the sometimes-wooden Republican businessman that many voters have never seen.
And, as voters decide which man they will invite into their living rooms for the next four years, Romney's sons are showcasing a side of the candidate his advisers want the country to know better. His campaign knows Romney is facing an opponent, in President Barack Obama, who remains personally popular despite the nation's struggling economy. And that could be a key factor in a close election.
"For voters who take voting for president very personally, (Romney's sons) offer an expansive window into who he is and what makes him tick," said Romney aide Kevin Madden. "This is a person that's really taught them values, taught them a lot of life lessons. And I think that's important for a lot of voters. They don't always get to see that."
Indeed, voters were not with Romney on his Tuesday flight from Boston to Tampa on Tuesday, when his 8-year-old grandson was sick a few seats behind him. They did not see a messy-haired grandfather climb out of bed to hold a 3-month-old crying baby at his New Hampshire summer home last week. Nor were they inside Romney's convention hotel room Tuesday afternoon when the 65-year-old father privately reflected on "the largeness of the moment" with Tagg, Tagg's wife and two sons.
"This is a week where we're telling the story about who my dad is and what he believes in," Tagg said after sharing the personal moments. "We probably know him better than anybody else."
A candidate's family usually plays an outsized role in the party's national conventions. And heading into this convention week, Romney's staff had planned to use the time in Tampa to play up his life story following a summer filled with a barrage of TV ads — courtesy of Obama and his allies — that cast Romney as a ruthless and out-of-touch businessman.
Romney will be surrounded by family before and after his Thursday night speech. His wife, Ann, played her biggest role yet Tuesday night, offering a prime-time speech of her own focused on family.
"I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a storybook marriage," she told the convention. "Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once."
All five Romney sons — Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig — watched their mother speak from the convention hall. Tall and photogenic, each married in his 20s and all have wives who are stay-at-home moms. Three of the sons work in real estate, one is in private equity and the fifth is finishing his medical residency.
To hear them tell it, Mitt Romney was a consistently engaged father, regularly talking to his boys about career choices. The sons acknowledge that Tagg probably felt the most pressure to follow in his father's footsteps, and he has, attending Harvard Business School and founding a private equity firm.
All five boys attended the prestigious all-boys Belmont Hill School outside Boston, where they were required to play three sports. And all five went to Brigham Young University, the Mormon college in Utah where three met their wives. The three oldest went on to Harvard Business School. Ben went to Tufts Medical School, and Craig has a graduate degree from Columbia.
But they share their mother's down-to-earth appeal.
Asked to describe their father in one word during a recent Fox interview, Josh called him "cheap." Craig suggested "qualified," while Ben quipped "frugal." Matt cited "integrity" and Tagg said "generous."
But do not be fooled. In addition to sharing family stories, Tagg has been a part of his father's political brain trust since his first presidential bid. And all of the sons help their father raise money across the country. Tagg focuses on the East Coast, while the others focus on the West Coast.
Tagg alone has roughly 20 fundraisers scheduled before the November election.
It's a grind for some as they balance family and professional responsibilities. But it's something they say is worth it.
"This is an incredible privilege to be doing this. You don't want to complain," Tagg said. "This is an unbelievable experience for a family."
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