Despite a shaky start, First Lady-in-Waiting Ann Romney has successfully advanced her husband’s campaign and her own standing by exuding warmth, embracing charity, and insisting on an image of strength rather than weakness.
Early years: "A real education" in politics
Born Ann Davies, she began dating her future husband in high school. She converted to Mormonism while he was in college. He left for Mormon missionary work in France, and the separation strained their relationship. But they married when he returned. The couple had their first of five sons while he attended Harvard Business School.
At first the housewife was damaging to her husband’s career; in the 1994 U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts she appeared “superficial, pampered and too deferential” to her husband. In interviews she talked about her weight loss, their investments, and the fact that the couple has argued only once. At a time when women like Hillary Clinton were making bold political statements and advocating feminism, Romney wasn’t taken seriously.
Presidential campaign partner: Bright personality, charity work, and health obstacles
But she has been an important part of his campaign ever since. Whereas her husband may come off as bland or flatly salesman-like, Ann Romney now shares personal stories that add warmth to her husband’s character. Her roles as the “dad stabilizer” and the conversationalist, likeable Ann Romney strengthens the image of their marriage and makes up for her husband’s lack of personality.
She has won high regard for herself as well. As First Lady of Massachusetts, Ann Romney worked on federal faith-based initiatives. She has been involved in children’s charities, including offering philanthropic services to donors for children’s causes through Operation Kids. Her diagnoses of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease that disrupts motor and language function and leads to physical numbness and fatigue, won her sympathy and made her appear stronger for fighting these conditions.
Homemaker: Positive or Negative Influence?
It’s also encouraging that Ann Romney has tried to fight the stereotype of passivity often assumed about stay-at-home moms. When a democratic commentator claimed that Romney had “never worked a day in her life,” Romney insisted that she “made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.” While many women may not have the economic liberty to choose to stay home, it’s still important not to denigrate the work of mothers.
She still faces limits. Republicans tend to lose women voters to the Democrats, and Ann Romney’s position as an affluent, white, stay-at-home woman may not sway women divided between the candidates. Michelle Obama was so popular in 2008 in part because she had been a mother and wife while also having worked at a law firm and in the public sector.
Mitt Romney’s campaign has been hurt largely by his inability to convey conviction and his “meh” personality. By being a humanizing face for her husband and being active in her own right, Ann Romney has made up for his weaknesses. If she gets a bigger role, she could potentially provide the compelling likeability her husband needs in order to win this fall.