MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And now we turn from the current president to the race to see who will be the next president. We've been having conversations with candidates' spouses. Today, we invited Ann Romney to stop by.
She's the wife of GOP candidate Mitt Romney and the former first lady of Massachusetts. Ann Romney contracted multiple sclerosis almost a decade ago. However, she's now in full remission and has an active role in the campaign. To keep the disease at bay, she keeps a relatively light schedule for the wife of a man seeking the Oval Office. No late nights, lots of breaks and frequent trips home to ride her show horse, Baron.
On her MySpace profile, her blog and her Web site, which includes a section of her favorite family recipes, Ann Romney works to underscore her husband's family values message. Five sons, eight grandchildren, nearly four decades of marriage. Yet, she didn't quite know what to expect when she hit the campaign trail.
Ms. ANN ROMNEY (Mitt Romney's Wife): I asked someone before the campaign started, I said, what's it going to be like and nobody could tell me. I mean, it sort of like, it's sort of an animal into itself and you sort of don't know what you're going to do until you get involved. And I just started getting involved. I've loved meeting so many people and I've actually been quite comfortable speaking and doing things. And so the more I do that, the more they send me out and it's sort of been me being - knowing I can manage my multiple sclerosis and the fatigue.
NORRIS: How do you manage it?
Ms. ROMNEY: With a lot of different things, anyone that knows me well will know part of that is horses.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ROMNEY: If I really feel fatigued and down, I can go out and get on my horse and I will feel absolutely fabulous. It's amazing how it just buoys my spirit, gets me energized. But there are other things that I do as well, alternative therapies. I love acupuncture. I have acupuncture treatments at least once a week. I do reflexology as well.
NORRIS: This may seem like a silly question, but I understand that you keep a very strict diet, that that helps you control your illness. I'm just wondering when you're traveling through Iowa, one thing I - you know from campaigns, as people are always handing you something that's fried and usually something that's fried and on a stick. How do you handle that?
Ms. ROMNEY: Well, I did. I did have one bite of a deep-fried Snickers or deep-fried Twinkie - I can't remember - at the Iowa State Fair. One bite. But I make sure and eat fresh berries with my granola in the morning, and I make sure to eat steamed broccoli.
NORRIS: This is not the standard fare…
Ms. ROMNEY: Not the standard fare.
NORRIS: …on the campaign trail. That's not what you normally eat.
Ms. ROMNEY: It's a lot of effort. I mean it's very, very important that I eat healthy.
NORRIS: I want to ask you one particular question about your MS. Many are surprised by you and your husband's stance on federal funding for stem cell research. The MS Society is very much in favor of federal funding, saying that it could help provide great advances and eventually, perhaps, find a cure. And in the meantime, help people…
Ms. ROMNEY: Yeah.
NORRIS: …who have had degenerative loss.
Ms. ROMNEY: I think people get confused about what stem cell research really means, and I am absolutely in favor of stem cell research as is my husband. The line for us was creating new human life for experimentation. There are lots of forms of stem cell research that don't do that.
NORRIS: I understand that there's been a debate in your household as to whether or not your husband should deliver a speech much like John F. Kennedy did to address what are the central questions in his campaign, the questions many voters have about his Mormon faith.
I understand you have said that it's a good idea for him to do this. What should he say and when should he say it…
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: …to address this?
Ms. ROMNEY: Well, we bat this thing around. And, you know, I like to remember what it was like because Mitt was the first Mormon I met. And I had reservations or questions about his faith as well. And so once you get to know more about Mitt, I think those things evaporate. So, yeah, I think at some point he may address it. We really do go round and round on it.
NORRIS: But people do have concerns. I mean, polls show that a large percentage of Americans would not so comfortable voting for a presidential candidate who is of the Mormon faith, so what does he say…
Ms. ROMNEY: You know, those polls are…
NORRIS: What does he say - what's the antidote to that?
Ms. ROMNEY: You know, those polls are interesting because if you don't know a candidate at all and you just ask that blank question, they'll say no. But if they know the person, then they'll say, oh yes, I will. And the more they get to him, the more the question is absolutely yes. And then, that Mormon part of it, which is ironic, ends up being a little, actually, an advantage in a strange kind of way because you know the man has strong family values and strong core. And it will end up, I believe, in a strange kind of way, being a positive.
NORRIS: An advantage.
Ms. ROMNEY: An advantage, yeah. And people are not going to be electing a pastor-in-chief. That's not what they're going to be doing.
NORRIS: Now, it's interesting you used that phrase in particular because when John F. Kennedy delivered that speech in September of 1960, one of the things that he was dealing with was a fear, a concern among Americans that the pope might be pulling the strings that…
Ms. ROMNEY: Right.
NORRIS: …the presidency might be in some way controlled by the Vatican. In this case, if you look at the polls, if you look at some of the things that are being written, some of the things that are being said - sometimes by columnists, sometimes by voters - that you are dealing with not just fear but almost a degree of discomfort and, in some cases repulsion, about your faith. Is that a harder hill to climb when you're dealing with something like that?
Ms. ROMNEY: Well, that's where the misperceptions come in. Where people assume we have polygamy in our past, well, that's a hundred and twenty years old and that's, you know, absolutely not the case and things like that. And they, again, have to just recognize that they do get over it. I've seen it. I've just seen it.
NORRIS: Recently in a national magazine that featured Mitt Romney on the cover, the reporter observed that when she mentioned something from his past that he was very uncomfortable.
Ms. ROMNEY: That was so incorrect. I mean, those things just bother you. Those things when they're really, you know, when you…
NORRIS: I'm glad we have a chance to talk about this because…
Ms. ROMNEY: Yeah.
NORRIS: …it seemed like…
Ms. ROMNEY: And, you know, it's like when you spend 20 minutes with somebody and then you say, oh, you're going to make a whole impression. And it's - and I think the impression she left was that Mitt was trying to back away from his faith. And…
NORRIS: Well, the - you know, the impression that I think a lot of readers will get from that is that he's uncomfortable talking about his faith.
Ms. ROMNEY: And that makes us crazy because it's like that was so - that's so inaccurate and it's so not fair. He wants to talk about running for president of the United States; he does not want to talk about trying to convert people to his faith. And so when they try and push and push and push, it's like, you know what, why don't you talk to me about the issues? I mean, then they can read that, interpret it any way they want and say, oh, well, he doesn't even want to talk about his faith. And it's like, no, my faith - look at how I've lived my life. That is your judgment of how you want to judge me, fine, look at how I've lived my personal life.
But I'm not here to try to convert everyone to my faith. That's not what I am doing. I am here as a candidate for the presidency of the United States. If reporters want to push that and push that and push that, and finally he'll just, he backs away from it and says, wait, is this fair? Do you ask all of the candidates this - about their faith? I mean, it's just - it really is, there's still a…
NORRIS: Do you feel that the Romneys are experiencing a form of prejudice in this case, victims of discrimination in some way?
Ms. ROMNEY: Well, I think that people do experience some discrimination or prejudice, yes. It really does feel media-driven to me as opposed to voter-driven to me. And if you look at Mitt's early poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire and Michigan and - why are his poll numbers so high? I mean, it is like it's because that's where we've spent the time and people have gotten to know us. And in the national polls, we're still not known. But in the early states where we've been spending the time, people have gotten over that.
NORRIS: Ann Romney, thank you so much for making time for us.
Ms. ROMNEY: Thank you.
NORRIS: That's Ann Romney. Her husband, Mitt Romney, was governor of Massachusetts and is now seeking the Republican nomination for president.
We mentioned that speech delivered 47 years ago by another Massachusetts politician, then-Senator John F Kennedy. Senator Kennedy had already won the Democratic presidential nomination and was trying to defeat Republican Richard Nixon. At the time, no Catholic had ever won the White House. There were fears that Kennedy's allegiance would be split between his country and his faith. Here's an excerpt of what he said at the Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960.
(Soundbite of JFK speech)
Mr. JOHN F KENNEDY (Former U.S. President): I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish, where no public official either request or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source. Where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace.
NORRIS: John F. Kennedy speaking in Houston in 1960.
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