WASHINGTON - For the Republican candidates even more than for their Democratic counterparts, being with their wives during rallies is a necessity: it’s a sign of their commitment to family values. In this respect, Mitt Romney stands as a champion. His wife Ann sticks to him like a leech. Unlike Newt Gingrich’s wife Callista, Ann Romney also participates in the campaign: she defends her husband, she’s involved in controversies....and she tweets.  At 63, she only wears flashy jackets, striking a pose that is anything but unassuming.

To be the wife of a presidential candidate is a thankless job. In 2008, Michelle Obama was pushed aside by her husband’s advisers after she made “insufficiently patriotic statements” seen as potentially scaring away white voters. Ann Romney is not held back. The Republican staff look for new ways to push her into the stoplight -- and her husband does not stop talking about her.

The proud husband tells how they met in primary school, about their flirting in high school -- and their marriage of 42 years. If he wanted to dismiss prejudices on Mormons, the former Governor of Massachusetts couldn’t do it in a better way: they seem to be the perfectly happy and monogamous couple.

Until now, the Mormon debate has been largely avoided, except for one attack at the beginning of the campaign from an evangelical pastor close to then candidate Rick Perry, governor of Texas. But prejudices don’t die easily and for many Americans, the Mormon faith is still associated with polygamy – even if the practice has been forbidden for a century. Comedian Stephen Colbert even joked about it in a recent television appearance, saying Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather was exiled to Mexico with “his wife” (a picture appears on the screen), “and his wife” (second picture), “and his wife” (third picture). Miles Park Romney did in fact have multiple wives – five in total. He married the last one just before the prohibition of polygamy in 1890. He also had 30 children.

In 2007, during her husband’s first run at the presidency, Ann Romney did not hesitate to joke about the subject. The main difference between Mitt and his (divorced) rivals, she said, was “that, at least, he only married one woman.”  This time around, however, she is carefully avoiding the issue, choosing instead to highlight Mitt’s many attributes as a “perfect” husband. She even made voters cry when she told how “secure and supportive” he was during her fight against breast cancer in 2008, after a presidential campaign she did not enjoy.

Ann Davies, daughter of a Welsh self-made-man who became an industrialist in Michigan, had to convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be able to marry Mitt Romney in 1969. The high school sweethearts might have married sooner, but Mitt shipped off to France to do missionary work. While he was gone, the future Mrs. Romney began dating someone else. She wrote Mitt a break-up letter – a painful episode that the Republican candidate sometimes hints at in his speeches. Of course the story had a happy ending. When Mitt returned home, Ann picked him up at the airport. He proposed to her right in the car. The wedding was celebrated in Michigan, and then in Salt Lake City.

Mother of five boys born over the course of 11 years, she tries to humanize her husband, who grew up in a privileged family. She owns racehorses, which she described once as “much needed friends” that help her cope with multiple sclerosis, something she was diagnosed with in 1998. The Romney couple invested $250,000 in a stud farm in California and she was seized by a sudden passion for dressage. If her husband is elected, she plans on bringing horse-riding to the White House.

Ann Romney moved center stage recently after Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen, weary of hearing Mitt Romney saying that his wife was keeping him updated on women’s issues, said that “Ann Romney did not work a single day in her life.” The Romney team immediately denounced this insult and Ann Romney reacted on her brand new Twitter account. “I chose to stay at home and to raise five children. And believe me, it’s not easy at all,” she wrote. According to her advisers, she chose not to have a cook or a baby-sitter, despite the fact she was married to a multimillionaire.

This incident couldn’t have happened at a better time for Mitt Romney, who has struggled to attract female voters. Women tend to favor the Democrats. But this year the Democrats are doing even better among potential female voters, according to recent polls. The birth control debate, launched by Romney's then rival for the nomination, Rick Santorum, frightened a lot of a women. The Republican Party lost about 10 points in the polls these past weeks. In mid-April, Mitt Romney was 20 points behind Barack Obama among women.

The Republican candidate is hoping Ann will help him gain much of that lost support back. Even Barack Obama felt that he had to say something to defend the attacked mom: “There’s no harder job than being a mom,” he said.

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photo - BU interactive