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Romney Deploys Wife to Solve Authenticity Problem

September 25, 2011

When you're worth $250 million, it's awfully tough - especially during a prolonged economic crisis - to present yourself as a down-to-earth, man of the people. But if you're Mitt Romney, the challenge is even more daunting. After all, four years ago the son of an auto magnate turned job-cutting venture capitalist spent $45 million of his own money in a failed White House bid. Adding insult to injury, in recent weeks Romney announced he was merely doubling (and not quadrupling) the size of his $12 million California home, joked "I'm also unemployed" and declared himself "middle class."
So, after trying in vain to present himself as a common man, Mitt Romney has deployed his wife to provide the supposed authenticity he so obviously lacks.
That's the word from the Associated Press, which reported Sunday that "Romney using wife's story to connect with voters":

Mitt Romney is not used to wearing an apron. But the Republican presidential candidate was not alone in cooking attire one recent morning as hundreds of potential supporters lined up for free pancakes.
Ann Romney, his wife of 42 years, stood with him, spatula in hand, wearing the same white apron and the comfortable smile of a woman who spent countless mornings flipping flapjacks for five hungry sons.
Her presence on that day, like so many others during the long campaign, is an acknowledged blessing for a 2012 White House contender who struggles to shake a robotic image. Friends and foes alike say she makes him seem more genuine.

By most accounts, Ann Romney is a warm and engaging person, one who has shown great courage and determination in battling multiple sclerosis. But as the New York Times reported in 2007, she hasn't always proven to be an asset to Mitt's campaigns:

Mrs. Romney's debut as a political wife was somewhere between a disappointment and a disaster.
Her husband was running unsuccessfully for a United States Senate seat in Massachusetts in 1994, and Mrs. Romney was derided as superficial, pampered and too deferential to him. In a Boston Globe interview, she talked about slimming down to her high school weight (117 pounds), the investments she and Mr. Romney lived off as students, and the number of times the couple had ever argued: once.
"She definitely hurt him in that race," said Thomas Whalen, a political science professor at Boston University.

(That was back when Mitt was pro-choice and attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser with Ann.)
But while the Times concluded four years ago that "She seems much better at retail politics than her husband," she may also serve to remind voters of the great wealth her husband Mitt would prefer to keep behind the curtain:

During her rehabilitation from her initial attack, she took up dressage, going from a novice so weak that she could barely sit in the saddle to a winner of top amateur medals. She sometimes enters professional-level contests, against the advice of her trainer, Jan Ebeling. "She wants to measure herself against the best," he said.
Dressage is a sport of seven-figure horses and four-figure saddles. The monthly boarding costs are more than most people's rent. Asked how many dressage horses she owns, Mrs. Romney laughed. "Mitt doesn't even know the answer to that," she said. "I'm not going to tell you!"

Which may be one of the reasons that Mitt Romney refused during Thursday's GOP debate to define "rich." No doubt remembering the skewering the $100 million man John McCain got for declaring that "$5 million" moved you "from middle class to rich," Romney sidestepped Bret Baier's question:

"I don't try and define who's -- who's rich and who's not rich. I want everybody in America to be rich. I want people in this country to have opportunity. And I want everybody to have the kind of opportunities that we on this stage have had."

Opportunities, the lives of John McCain and Mitt Romney seem to suggest, to marry a millionaire or be born to one. Or as then candidate George W. Bush so accurately joked during the Al Smith dinner in October 2000:

"This is an impressive crowd - the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites; I call you my base."

Which is why Americans can expect a lot of more sightings of Ann Romney flipping pancakes.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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