Romney the family man in focus once again

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaks as his wife Ann Romney and their sons (L-R) Josh, Matt, Craig and Tagg look on at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on the night of the Iowa Caucuses January 3, 2012 in Des Moines, Iowa. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaks as his wife Ann Romney and their sons (L-R) Josh, Matt, Craig and Tagg look on at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on the night of the Iowa Caucuses January 3, 2012 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

Mitt Romney's picture-perfect, all-American family was a central feature of his first presidential run.

The travels of the candidate's particularly dedicated middle son were well-documented as Josh Romney drove to all of Iowa's 99 counties ahead of the 2008 caucuses, and on the campaign-sponsored Five Brothers Blog, the brood's fraternal quintet kept readers posted on the lighter side of campaigning around the country and their PG-rated high jinks.

And through late 2007, several of the Republican's TV advertisements highlighted his apple pie home life as a model for the nation's families.

"The future of this country is more affected by what goes on in the four walls of the American home than anything else," Romney said with his wife, Ann, by his side in one of his 30-second spots that ran in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But that family story faded into the background during the now-presumptive nominee's first year on the 2012 campaign trail -- for a number of reasons, including strategists' decision to focus his general election message almost exclusively on jobs and the economy.

Now, however, as Romney tries to shrink a likeability gap with an incumbent who remains popular on a personal level, his campaign has again begun spotlighting members of the clan to a greater extent.

The renewed focus began on Father's Day when the campaign released a 3 1/2-minute online video that featured old home movies and accompanying commentary from Tagg, Matt, Josh, Craig, and Ben.

With the sons reflecting on their dad's "goofball" side, the video was designed to challenge the popular image of Romney as a robotic and calculating 1950s throwback.

Four days later, the five brothers sat down with Conan O'Brien for their first joint interview of the campaign, where they held their own against the comedian's close-to-the-bone prodding, taking in stride his teasing about a "global khaki shortage" whenever the family gets together.

Even the typically camera shy Ben got into the act when he deadpanned, "As you can tell, I really love the limelight."

The brothers' self-deprecating tone was well-received, and the campaign appears to be leaning on them increasingly to highlight what one Romney aide described as "a different side of Governor Romney than [voters] may see on the campaign trail."

Campaign officials note that the entire family has long been active on the stump, but there is a clear effort underway to reach voters who have only vague impressions of the candidate as family patriarch.

On Saturday, The Washington Post published a story in which eldest son Tagg offered his take on the so-called "Romney Olympics," which take place during the clan's annual early-July pilgrimage to their lakeside New Hampshire compound. There, an ever-expanding three generations of Romneys engage in bonding activities and compete against one another in improvised athletic events, which are carefully coordinated by the man known as "Papa."

As for the woman who has been the focal point of the candidate's life for nearly a half-century, Ann Romney has played a far more prominent role in the campaign since April, when she became embroiled in a controversy after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen appeared to denigrate her role as a stay-at-home mother.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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