Ann Romney takes center stage in new solo interviews

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That defiance is perhaps most on display in Ann Romney's firm response to Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, who earlier this month criticized Romney's ability to advise her husband on the economy when she has "never worked a day in her life." The stay-at-home mother of five noted the next day on Fox News that she has certainly struggled in her life, if not in the way Rosen expected.

Despite that toughness, Ann Romney has also admitted to being a “calming influence” on her husband, and of filling the humanizing function of “letting people see the other side of Mitt.” Her children call her “the Mitt stabilizer.”

She has hit the campaign trail hard and often this year, talking about the couple’s love story (they started dating when she was 16), revealing that her husband sings to her — especially on horseback — and defending his not-always-perfect hair.

But two polls released last month indicated she is still not very well known to voters. A Pew Research poll released July 21 indicated that fewer than half of the voters surveyed have no opinion of Ann Romney. A USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted June 9 to 10 found 21 percent had never heard of her and 24 percent had no opinion.

The campaign may be out to introduce Ann Romney to a wider swath of people, starting with two new, solo interviews published Tuesday in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. Both interviews are personal, revealing her sense of humor and focusing on her health struggles.

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Ann Romney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1998, and with early-stage breast cancer in January 2009. Ann Romney has been very open about the impact MS has on her, for instance leaving body parts numb or compromising her ability to think clearly.

The breast cancer is in remission, but her MS is the common relapsing-remitting type, which means it can flare up unexpectedly. Earlier this year, she admitted to having such a scare around Super Tuesday, one of the most important voting days during the hotly contested Republican primary.

"My body was just telling me again, 'You can't just go. Knock, knock, I'm here. You can't do this to me,'" she told USA Today of the flare-up.

"I'd have said, 'Get off the trail,'” Mitt Romney said of the incident, on Fox News earlier this month. "I'm not happy with her. No secrets. ... I trust her, but when it comes to her health, that's got to come first."

Ann Romney told USA Today her health battles taught her to be “more compassionate, more understanding of those who are struggling." Some of Romney's sons told USA Today they often pass on to her the contact information of people dealing with MS that they meet out on the campaign trail. She personally calls many of them, much like she reached out to ABC News reporter Robin Roberts last month following the announcement of Roberts's diagnosis with myelodysplastic syndrome.

She has said she would be an advocate in the White House for those who suffer from the disease, and she told USA Today she wants to write a book "about facing life's challenges" someday.

Ann Romney uses acupuncture, reflexology and horseback riding to help alleviate the extreme fatigue and muscle pain resulting from the MS.

But her horseback riding has also attracted criticism on the campaign trail, with some pointing out it is an expensive hobby that might add to the perception of the Romneys as out-of-touch with the average American.

Ann Romney has taken the opportunity to use the media spotlight for advocacy, explaining the known benefits of therapeutic riding to people with struggle with balance, muscle control and coordination.

Romney particularly likes dressage, a highly disciplined Olympic-level sport that requires intense muscle control in order to direct what looks like "horse ballet."

"You have to understand, we all laugh at the sport, too — those of us who try it,” she told USA Today. “We laugh at how ridiculous it looks sometimes."

She called Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert’s recent comments on her love of dressage “hilarious,” and recently told the New Jersey Star-Ledger she thought the spotlight could increase interest in the Olympic-level sport.

The Romneys co-own a horse named Rafalca that will compete in the summer Olympics this year. Mitt Romney has been known to select the music for Rafalca’s performances.

Ann Romney and other dressage fans posed at Rafalca’s Olympic qualifying event wearing "Dressage is No. 1" foam fingers — mimicking the type of fan memorabilia typically only seen at more large-scale sports events — that were distributed by the U.S. Equestrian Federation as a response to Colbert.

Ann Romney said she does not spend much time worrying about whether people understand something that brings her joy.

"This is my life,” she told USA Today. “This is a vehicle that brought me health and joy and happiness, and if it's misunderstood, I can't do anything about that."