DES MOINES, Iowa, Aug. 12, 2007 — -- Josh Romney is tired.
For most of the last four months, he has lived in a Winnebago — dubbed the Mitt Mobile — stopping at least once in every one of Iowa's 99 counties, campaigning on behalf of his father, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Now he can rest — for a while. Romney pere won the crucial Iowa Straw Poll this weekend, and the Mitt Mobile is temporarily idle, parked next to a hotel in Ames. Josh can take a day off, maybe two. But soon, he will be back in the super-sized camper, and off to Nevada, or maybe Florida, or perhaps, New Hampshire. And so it will go for at least the next six months, and maybe the next 15 months.
Josh, 31, is one of Romney's five sons, four of whom are regularly out on the campaign trail. For Romney, family isn't just a campaign theme — it is a campaign strategy.
When Romney stresses "the family" as one leg in the three-legged stool that is his analogy for his main campaign themes (the other legs are the military and the economy), he can back it up by producing his own nuclear family, including his adult sons and Ann Romney, his wife of 38 years.
It is a none-too-subtle contrast to the two Republican frontrunners, Sen. John McCain and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, both of whom are divorcees. Giuliani's children do not campaign with him.
For the Romney brothers, it means a lot of time on the road away from home, friends, and often family.
"It's not easy, but it's well worth it," said Craig Romney, 26, who lives in New York City. "I'm willing to do whatever I can to help get my dad elected."
"I tried to convince them not to do it," Mitt Romney told me during a campaign stop in Hampton, Iowa. "I said, 'you've got your lives, you've got your families.' They said, 'Dad, you're running for president of the United States. We want to help you. We want to be part of it.' It's a very moving thing, very humbling."
Two other sons, Tagg, 37, and Matt, 35, are also frequently campaigning on the road. Tagg is a top campaign advisor in the campaign's Boston headquarters. He is said to wield a lot of influence with his father, especially when it comes to the delicate task of convincing him to do or say something differently.
"I get to be the bearer of bad news sometimes to my dad," he said. "Sometimes, he'll listen and say that's a good idea.Sometimes, he'll say, 'I don't quite agree with that.'"
Ben Romney, a medical student in the Boston area, campaigns infrequently because of school. He did fly in to Iowa for the Ames Straw Poll on Aug. 11, a rare reunion of the entire clan. In fact, with five brothers spread across the map, they say the campaign has actually brought them together more often.
"We get together now as a family more than we did before," said Matt, a commercial real estate developer in San Diego. "So, honestly, it's a lot of fun to get together and share this experience."
It isn't all fun. The high profile of the Romney sons may have prompted some biting questions at several "Ask Mitt Anything" campaign stops in Iowa. Three times in three days, Romney, who supports the war in Iraq, was asked why his own children never joined the military.
In Bettendorf, Iowa, he made the mistake of trying to make light of it. After saying he respected his sons' decision not to join, and respected the decision of those who did, he clumsily added, "One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."
The question came up again the next day in Eagle Grove, Iowa.
"How about your children," one man asked with a bit of edge to his voice. "Have they served in the military?"
"No, my boys have not," Romney replied. "We have a volunteer military today and they chose a different path, which I respect. At the same time, I should note, I think it's important for us to respect and show the reverence we have for people who serve in the military, but I don't think we in any way denigrate those who choose a different course, not as long as we have a volunteer military."
Josh said, "It's something that none of us chose to do. We all chose different paths but, you know ... we look at our troops overseas as they're fighting now, and have a huge amount of respect for them."
The five brothers have a personal blog on the Romney campaign Web site, which contains their observations, reflections and musing from the campaign trail. None of them is quite sure who's idea it was.
The Romneys say they accept that, because their father, who is a Mormon, is running for president, they will sometimes be put in the position of having to explain or even defend their faith.
"People are curious about the church, and people are naturally curious and have questions," said Josh. "So, I think it's something we expect to happen, and it's fair."
The Romneys admit the prospect of possibly spending the next 15 months campaigning is daunting. And if, after all the time and effort and energy, their father doesn't win?
"It would be crushing to me if he didn't make it all the way," Craig said. "but I'll love my dad all the same."