Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, wave to supporters in Novi, Mich. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images )
Is it possible to humanize a presidential candidate by proxy? That seems to be the aim of Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, who is pursuing the hearts of voters by carefully parceling out seemingly intimate details of her own life.
On Thursday, fresh off her turn in the "mommy wars" spotlight, Romney sat down with "Entertainment Tonight" and revealed that her multiple sclerosis, first diagnosed in 1998, had flared up last month as a result of the rigors of the campaign trail.
"E.T." host Nancy O'Dell described it as "a debilitating MS attack."
Romney, however, called it "a little bit of a scare" and said she had kept it "a secret." It was unclear from whom the secret was kept; she did not reveal whether her husband knew.
"Most people, when they get to empty, they have a reserve tank," said Romney, who looked well-rested, blonder than usual and chic in a long double strand of what looked like jumbo freshwater pearls. "And with MS you go to empty, you are on empty, that's it, you are done and you literally collapse. You can't even walk anymore, you can't even talk anymore. You are done and that's ... a place you don't ever want to go to."
Her symptoms, Romney said, presented as confusion and wobbliness: "What happens is that I start to almost lose my words, I can't think, I can't get words out. I start to stumble a little bit and so those things were happening and I thought, 'Uh oh, big trouble.' "
The demands of campaigning for the White House, she said, run counter to good health: "I like to joke, for people that have MS, there are certain rules that you've got to follow," Romney said. "One is go to bed on time. Don't have stress in your life. Eat balanced meals every day. And, of course, being on the campaign trail none of those things work. And it's been a hard thing for me to balance. If I feel myself getting a little off balanced, a little unusually fatigued I'm like, 'See you later!'"
Romney frequently leaves her husband's side to rest and relax away from the rigors of the campaign trail. She often goes to their beachfront home in La Jolla, San Diego's toniest neighborhood. A couple hours north of San Diego, in Moorpark, Romney keeps her dressage horses. Riding, she often says, has helped her overcome the symptoms of MS, which at one time caused her entire right side to go numb.
"It's the rhythm of the horse, it's the peacefulness of them," she said. "They have such a wonderful, solid feeling to them."
In her "E.T." interview, she also spoke about her battle with breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 2008, the same year the Romneys purchased their $12-million California home. It was caught early, she said, thanks to a mammogram.
"I still had to go through surgery and through radiation and having the MS it kind of really put me in a hole for awhile," Romney said. "The radiation really kind of knocked me flat."
Dealing with her illnesses has left her "scarred" and "a little bruised," Romney said. But, she added, "It left me with a heart that's more open and more compassionate for those that are suffering."
On a lighter note, Romney said her husband hasn't yet decided whether he will make an appearance on "Saturday Night Live," but that she would consider it a "great thrill" to be invited on.
The show's skits that mercilessly skewer her husband as robotic and humorless, Romney said, are funny, but untrue. It's a challenge the Romney campaign has been dealing with for a long time – how to convince the world that the perfectly coiffed, sober-minded businessman has a looser side.
("I live for laughter," Mitt Romney told CNN in December. "I love humor.")
"Mitt is a very funny guy," Ann Romney told "E.T." Her proof: "He doesn't comb his hair when we are not going places. It's all over the place."