For Romney, politics is a family affair

Associated Press
** ATTN - PLEASE MOVE OVERNIGHT JULY 7 (TONIGHT) WITH STORY EX-WASHINGTON ** FILE - In this July 6, 2012, file photo Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, top second from left, plays with family and friends on a floating raft on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, N.H. In an era where non traditional families seem to be the norm, Romney’s family stands out because it is traditional. Married for 40 years, five accomplished sons, family vacations etc. This was the portrait of his week at the lake. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
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** ATTN - PLEASE MOVE OVERNIGHT JULY 7 (TONIGHT) WITH STORY EX-WASHINGTON ** FILE - In this July 6, 2012, file photo Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, top second from left, plays with family and friends on a floating raft on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, N.H. In an era where non traditional families seem to be the norm, Romney’s family stands out because it is traditional. Married for 40 years, five accomplished sons, family vacations etc. This was the portrait of his week at the lake. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

WOLFEBORO, N.H. (AP) — Mitt Romney's large family is at the center of his life — and of his presidential campaign.

His five sons, five daughters-in-law and 18 grandchildren — "a bevy of Romneys," as he dubbed them — were front and center on Independence Day as the Republican presidential candidate paraded his family down Main Street in this quaint resort town where the entire clan vacations.

"My family's so big it takes two risers!" Romney exclaimed after he reached the end of the parade route and held a campaign event in a field overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. As he spoke, he was flanked on two raised platforms by all of his sons and many of the grandchildren.

While a handful of family members sometimes accompany Romney on the campaign trail, the annual family vacation provided a rare opportunity for him to showcase all the members of the group he invokes so often. They now number 30 in all, and his wife, Ann, laments that's it tough to get them in one place at the same time.

At a time when nontraditional families have become more common — and when even the Romneys watch "Modern Family," a popular sitcom that centers on unconventional family arrangements — the Romney brood stands out. Mitt and Ann Romney have been married for more than 40 years.

It's an embodiment of the family values message that resonates with Republicans and Democrats alike. And it offers an opportunity for Romney to portray himself as caring and authentic — a useful perception for him to cultivate in the face of Democratic attempts to paint him as a heartless millionaire.

Romney's two presidential campaigns — a loss in 2008 and now, this one — haven't been easy on everyone, though.

"The process is tough. It's tough on the family," said Tagg Romney, the eldest of the Romney brothers. "The issues that the media focuses on don't tend to be the largest, most important issues. The little things that trip you up tend to be little gaffes or slips of the tongue that end up defining the race, and life's too short for that."

There are five Romney sons: Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig. All tall and photogenic, they range in age from 31 to 42. They are professionally successful to a man: three work in real estate, one in private equity, and the fifth is finishing his medical residency.

To hear them tell it, Mitt Romney was a consistently engaged father, regularly talking to his boys about career choices. The sons acknowledge that Tagg probably felt the most pressure to follow in his father's successful footsteps. And he has, attending Harvard Business School and founding a private equity firm.

Even so, Tagg says his father encouraged each son to choose his own career path, but he did push all of them hard to get good grades and continue their educations beyond college. All five boys attended the prestigious, all-boys Belmont Hill School, where they were required to play three sports. The private school was so academically rigorous, one son said, that it made college easy.

All five attended Brigham Young University, the Mormon college in Utah where three would meet their wives. The three oldest went on to attend Harvard Business School. Ben went to Tufts Medical School, and Craig has a graduate degree from Columbia.

They all married in their 20s and have 18 children total: Tagg has six kids, Matt has five, Josh has four, Ben has one and Craig has two. The grandkids range in age from just a few weeks — Tagg and his wife, Jen, just had twins that were born via a surrogate — to 16 years. All five Romney daughters-in-law are stay-at-home moms.

Romney appears to be an affectionate father, seen easily putting his arm around one of his sons as his family relaxed on the lawn behind their lake house. He seems to relish his role as a grandfather: During his vacation, he took a handful of them around Lake Winnipesaukee on his boat and was spotted on his lawn mower with two grandchildren on his lap, one wearing a captain's hat.

During the church service they attended a few days earlier, Ben Romney sent his preschool-age daughter, Soleil, running down the row of chairs to see her grandfather. "Go say hi," Ben said quietly. The elder Romney opened his arms and smiled, encouraging her. Ann Romney pulled Soleil up onto her lap as her husband held out one of his wife's bracelets for their granddaughter to try on.

But his family plays a political role, too, as is tradition in the Romney clan.

Mitt Romney was very close to his father, George, who was governor of Michigan and ran for president in 1968. George Romney was very involved in his son's first political campaign against Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994. Mitt Romney's three oldest sons were in college by then, so their childhoods weren't shaped by his political career, but several have since become close political advisers to their father.

Tagg and Josh are the most involved, while Matt and Craig tend to hang back. Ben is rarely seen on the campaign trail, busy with his medical residency and less interested in politics than the others. Tagg is the only brother who gets the emails that campaign aides send out to staffers, but both he and Josh follow the campaign's traveling press corps on Twitter.

But next summer, the lakefront estate could be the Wolfeboro White House. Surrounded by his family on Wednesday, Romney said he and his wife woke up that morning and marveled.

"We looked at each other," Romney said, "and said, 'Oh, gosh, our love really started something, didn't it?'"

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