Saturday, July 21, 2007

On the Campaign Trail With Ann Romney

In The News

Ann Romney on the Trail

By Michael Falcone
The Caucus

Though Ann Romney darted around South Carolina this week, traveling to five towns in two days on her first major campaign swing without her husband, she wasn’t complaining about the grueling pace.

In fact, Mrs. Romney, the wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said she was loving it.

“I’ve had way more fun that I should have,” she declared, and added that the scene on campaign bus even seemed a little bit like a “pajama party” at times. Friends and family members, including her daughter-in-law, Mary, and grandson, Parker, joined her on the trail this week.

But as a surrogate for her husband, Mrs. Romney’s visit to South Carolina was designed for a serious purpose – to broaden Mr. Romney’s appeal in an important early primary state that is looking increasingly competitive.

In an interview yesterday while on her way to link up with her husband for a third day of campaigning in the state, Mrs. Romney said that the goal of her solo trip was not to get into the thick of policy issues, but rather to give voters a peek at her husband’s personal side. Eschewing formal speeches and note cards, Mrs. Romney said that she finds it much more effective to speak from her heart: “For whatever reason, it seems to resonate with people.”

But that has not stopped her from paying close attention to the concerns she’s hearing and passing them along to her husband. Immigration, health care and the war in Iraq tend to come up the most often, she said.

On Iraq, Mrs. Romney said she has “noticed a shift in the last couple of months” with voters expressing “a little bit of despair about the war.”
“They’re wanting the troops, they’re wanting to support the president, but they’re feeling frustrated.”

Mr. Romney has sounded similar themes on the war, publicly criticizing President Bush’s handling of it, while reserving judgment about whether the troop surge is working.

Wherever she goes, Mrs. Romney usually fields questions about living with multiple sclerosis. She was diagnosed with the disease in 1998, and speaks openly about how it changed her life.
“I recognize now that everyone has struggles,” she said. “I look into the crowd and I can see right away those people whose eyes start to tear up, or who put their hands over their hearts or who look at me with such earnestness, and I know right away that those people have dealt with real struggles.”

Her fight with the disease, which is now in remission, has also come up in the context of her husband’s position on embryonic stem cell research, which scientists say could help cure M.S. and other illnesses. Both she and Mr. Romney say they oppose it.

Mrs. Romney described courting voters in South Carolina as a long process of relationship building. Her husband, who has visited the state 11 times since the beginning of his presidential bid, has reportedly been beefing up his campaign organization there, apparently hoping to toughen the competition for his rivals.

On the campaign trail Mrs. Romney also seeks to address some voters’ uneasiness about her and Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith. During the trip this week, she said she talked to many evangelical Christians, and expressed optimism that voters who say they wouldn’t support a Mormon for president will eventually come around.

“We’re going to have to get to the point in South Carolina where we push that back, and I believe it’s going to happen,” she said. “Once people know us and see us, it dissolves as an issue.”
Mrs. Romney has also been helping her husband cultivate support among women voters by emphasizing his “family values.” It’s a message that she says is gaining traction.
Though she’s spent part of her life as an advocate on women’s issues, she does draw the line on one question: Is the country ready for its first woman president?

“I’m guessing it probably would be,” she said. “But I’m just hoping it’s not this particular woman president.”

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