IMAGE: Mitt Romney, Ann Romney
AP file
Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens as his wife, Ann speaks at his campaign headquarters in Boston.
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updated 10/18/2007 4:25:31 PM ET 2007-10-18T20:25:31

Mitt Romney doesn't talk much about his religion on the stump, despite polls showing a significant number of voters are less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate. But his wife suggests that Romney may someday address the issue head on.

In a recent interview with National Journal's Linda Douglass, Ann Romney -- herself a convert to Mormonism -- argues that voters have misconceptions about the religion and explains what her husband may yet do to clear them up. She also talks about her own potential role in shaping policy, the impact of her illness on the campaign and her family's financial commitment to the race.

Ann Romney's full interview will be aired on "National Journal On Air" this Friday at 1 p.m. Listen in for more of her comments, and visit the Insider Interviews for more conversations with newsmakers.

Q: Has it been difficult for you to become a public speaker and a political person in your own right?

Romney: It's been extraordinary. I would have thought that would have been difficult, but I've enjoyed it. I'm quite comfortable behind a mic and it doesn't matter if it's a small group of 10 or a hundred or a thousand. I've been surprised by that.

Q: Do you find yourself able to talk about policy more as you go along?

Romney: I could give Mitt's stump speech, if you'd like. But I feel like it's really important that he talk about the policy. I am there, defining Mitt as a person -- as a husband, as a father, as a businessman and all the other areas that people don't know him.

Q: You have a very difficult disease: MS. Your disease is now in remission, but do you worry that the campaigning is going to exacerbate your condition?

Romney: I do worry about that, and that was one of the most important determining factors as to whether we get in the race. But my health is good. I've learned how to take care of it. I've learned that my energy is limited and that I cannot over-fatigue myself.

Q: You've talked to Elizabeth Edwards about campaigning as a spouse with an illness.

Romney: She has a much more serious disease. I admire her for letting people see that despite all of our obstacles and all the struggles we face in life, you can still go on. We have spoken and we have shared those sentiments together.

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Q: The other Republican candidates have really been going after your husband in the last several days. How do you react to that?

Romney: Those attacks are so ridiculous, and they're so harmless. And it just shows that he's now someone who needs to be attacked. How did this happen? They're supposed to be the leading contenders. What are they attacking him for? Leave him alone. But it's the nature of politics.

Q: How do you think the country would view the first family if, say, Bill Clinton were the first spouse? Is there a difference in the way that that family would be viewed compared to your family?

Romney: I will let people make that distinction themselves. Obviously, everyone is who they are. We have a large family. We have five boys that happen to be very handsome young men and they've married above themselves and married beautiful girls. We have a strong and very close family.

Q: Can you see yourself being the kind of first lady that Nancy Reagan was? She was very protective of her husband.

Romney: She really loved her husband and put his welfare above everything else. And I think when your husband is in a difficult position like that, you hope someone will be doing that. I feel like I still have to look out for him. I make his homemade granola and send it on the road with him, and when I see him being overly worked I make sure [to] complain a lot.

Q: The subject has been raised about whether the first lady should have a policymaking role. There was talk that maybe [Judith] Giuliani would even sit in on Cabinet meetings. Would you do that?

Romney: You don't try to define [the first lady's role], because you don't really know exactly how it will turn out. I want everyone in this country to recognize what multiple sclerosis is, what a devastating illness it is, and how people can have such courage to still battle on with it and how it affects families.

I would want to continue the work that I've been doing with at-risk inner-city youth. I'm curious about the policy. I love being in on meetings, and I love being educated. But I would not be weighing in on policy issues.

Q: Do you think it's appropriate for the first spouse to have a policy position?

Romney: I think they elect one person; I don't think the American people would really like to think that someone that was not elected would actually be involved in such a significant way. I think you have to be very careful about walking that line.

Q: Of course, a previous first lady who did that very thing is now running for president.

Romney: Obviously, health care was important to her and it still is. And I think that she learned how tough it was to try to walk that line, and you have to do it through appropriate channels.

Q: It's tricky for a man to run against a woman. Things that he says about her can be seen as bullying or sexist. It's different running against a woman, is it not?

Romney: I think it is.

Q: What is it that's different?

Romney: I think there's lots of women that have been in abusive situations and they're very sensitive to things where they think that a man is maybe being overbearing. The thing I know about Mitt is that he has enormous respect for women, and he surrounds himself with very strong women. He really values their opinions.

Q: How do you react to the polling that shows a substantial percentage of people would not vote for a person who was a Mormon as president?

Romney: I'm not surprised by it, and I'm not also worried by it because [of] the perspective I come from. Mitt was the first Mormon I ever met.

Q: And you converted.

Romney: I did. I converted to the faith. I had a lot of the misperceptions that people have as well. As soon as I got familiar with it, I obviously overcame all those misperceptions and those things cleared up. So, that number actually means there are a lot of misperceptions out there about the Mormon faith. Once they actually see the candidate and what he stands for, and the values that he has, they quickly get over that, which is what happened in Massachusetts. That is obviously a hurdle we need to overcome, but if you look at the polling in early states where we spend time, that isn't really an issue anymore.

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Q: Do you think, as many have recommended, that he should give a speech and address the issue of his faith head on?

Romney: A lot of us weigh in. I weigh in on that. There may be a time that we think that's appropriate. We're still thinking about that.

Q: Can you tell us what [your] advice was?

Romney: At some point, I think he might. But he gets opinions the other way too. We all want to have a positive impact. You wonder how many people are really paying close attention right now, and it's timing, too. Whether you do it or don't, it's still not a definite answer yet.

Q: You did say, when asked how he's different from the other candidates, that he's only had one wife. Should that be a relevant factor in voters' minds?

Romney: That was a joke. That was sort of a light-hearted attempt to say, 'Don't worry about this past history of polygamy, which has been outlawed for over 120 years in the church.'
Again, everyone is who they are. It might be important to some and not important to others. We are very committed to each other. We have a very loving and lasting relationship.

Q: Your husband has put millions of your family dollars into the campaign. Do you weigh in on that decision?

Romney: Yeah, because it's a joint account. It's all right. We've been blessed, and we have plenty enough for what we need. We're at a very, very significant point in our history in this nation, and we believe strongly in America.

Q: So you're willing to put in whatever you think it takes?

Romney: We are.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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