Ann Romney Emerging as Husband's Political Weapon

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A Romney staffer has been tasked with handling her media requests for months. But as the demand intensifies, senior advisers concede that they are struggling to balance her time.

There are significant health concerns.

Ann Romney survived breast cancer in 2007 and has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the central nervous system.

"We travel a lot," said her traveling partner, Susan Duprey, noting that they've been on the road almost continuously since December. Ann Romney shows no visible symptoms of MS, although she must constantly focus on diet and regular exercise.

Aides also work to squeeze in down time. She escapes to their home in California as often as she can to spend time with the family's horses.

"That's the most revitalizing thing that she does," Duprey said. "So we work hard to get her in the company of her horses."

While the Romneys are worth as much as $250 million, her sincerity is sometimes disarming.

She offers cookies she baked from her Welsh grandmother's recipe to reporters on the campaign bus. Aides say she has never used a paid nanny or cook to help raise her children, although she hired a once-a-week house cleaner to help maintain multiple homes. And she jokes about cleaning dirty bathrooms, cooking for a huge family and her own health struggles.

"She is who she is. She doesn't hold back. She says what she thinks. I think that is disarming to people. And people like her quickly when they meet her," Tagg Romney said. He acknowledged that his mother's freewheeling style makes it nearly impossible for aides to control her message, which is typically the mark of the disciplined Romney campaign.

The campaign would not make Ann Romney available for this story.

She raised some eyebrows when she told ABC that "it's our turn now" to assume the presidency.

And a month ago, she made headlines at a Chicago-area campaign event after calling on Republicans to unite behind her husband. While that's eventually what happened, her comment came weeks before the campaign was prepared to issue that message.

"That's my mom. I don't think anyone tries to manage her. I think they recognize that that's not a good idea," Tagg Romney said. "I think that's an asset for us."

Democrats concede that she is an asset, but they're not convinced she'll ultimately make a difference in the battle for the White House.

After all, first lady Michelle Obama is popular as well. That same Quinnipiac poll showed that she's viewed favorably by 60 percent of registered voters.

"Ann Romney is clearly an asset to her husband's campaign. But while she may help get voters to take a look, ultimately Mitt Romney has to seal the deal," said Democratic strategist Karen Finney. "It's Mitt Romney who has to earn voters' trust because it's Mitt Romney they are voting for. And not even her excellent campaign skills can make up for whatever concerns voters may have about whether or not he'd be a good president."

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