If Romney wins the White House, he will have more grandchildren than any president in history, beating out President John Tyler, who was elected in 1841 and had 15 grandchildren from two different marriages.
The 65-year-old candidate and his wife, Ann, have 18 grandchildren in their brood, the product of their five sons and 43-year marriage. The kids range in age from 16 years old to just 3 months, and are a major priority for their doting, but very busy, grandparents. Just last week, the entire family - 30 in all - gathered in Wolfeboro, N.H., for a week of ice cream, water sports and unbridled adulation from Mitt and Ann.
One of the most common gripes waged against Romney is that he has a problem connecting. He has a plank-like posture and uses terminology seemingly ripped from a 1950s sitcom script. His wealth and pedigree have been both boons and challenges: Many argue that he is simply unrelatable to the average voter. But a glimpse into his family life - and his littlest enthusiasts - paints quite a different picture.
"Papa" and "Mamie"
Mitt and Ann are known as "Papa" and "Mamie" to their grandchildren, but Mitt's moniker was not always as such. If Ann's nickname seems to harken back to a former first lady, it's intentional - when their first grandchild, Allie, 16, was born, her grandparents were free to hand-choose their aliases. Mitt chose "Ike" and "Mamie" -- after the Eisenhowers. "He just thought it was a cool name and he liked it," says Allie's father, Tagg, the Romneys' eldest son. (In his book, "No Apology," Romney refers to Eisenhower as a the type of leader who has "changed the course in their nation's history.") Mitt was "Ike" for about seven years, until grandchildren Nos. 2 and 3 - twins Nick and Chloe - rebranded him as "Papa."
Unique titles are a common theme in the family; none of the Romney sons called anyone "Grandma" or "Grandpa" growing up. Ann's parents, Edward and Lois Davies, were known as "Pops" and "Meme" to their grandchildren. Mitt's parents, George and Lenore Romney, were called "Barda" and "Mahz," respectively. ("Barda" was an apparent reference to the nickname of one his grandchild's blankets.)
Each of the Romney sons - Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig - and their wives have varying views on how much they want their children in the limelight. Craig's wife, Mary, is active on social media platforms that share personal stories and pictures of her family in California. Ben, a doctor, and his wife, Andelyne, are hardly ever out on the trail with their daughter, preferring to stay home in Utah. The amount of media attention surrounding the youngsters is a point of concern for all. A particularly clarifying moment for the entire family came when it was discovered that a photograph of one of the grandchildren sitting on Ann's lap in a library appeared on a child's pornography website.
The kids on the road
When the kids are on the road, however, they are instantly darlings of both media and voters alike. Speaking to the critical Latin American voting bloc in Doral, Fla., at the Hispanic Leadership Network days before the state's crucial January primary, Romney told the crowd his grandson had something to say to the group before he began his remarks. Craig's 5-year-old son Parker leaned into the microphone and quipped "Hola!" before quickly retreating back before the glowing swoons of the crowd.
Romney's staff also takes special care of the kids when they are out, particularly younger members of his team, who are often happy to have the company of the littlest Romneys in their very seldom free time. During the January primaries, some would take the kids swimming at hotel pools; on a recent bus tour, Romney's bodyman, Garrett Jackson, 25, worked on a puzzle with some of his young playmates as the bus lumbered through the heartland.
While some of the kids squirm on stage (or, on some occasions, have played with their iPads while on it), Tagg's son, Joe, has really taken to life on the trail. "He adores it and thinks it's the greatest thing in the world," says Tagg, explaining that the 11-year-old will now walk into a room of people he doesn't know and confidently shake everyone's hand. He's also taken a particular liking to one of the campaign's hardest working advance staffers, Jake Kastan, 23. "They are like two ten-year-olds together," says Tagg, noting Kastan's special consideration for his young admirer.
Between two brothers and five sons, Ann Romney spent her life surrounded by males. Out of all 18 grandchildren, only five are girls. ("The streak continues!" says Tagg), and Allie, being the eldest (by far - there is a five-year gap between her and Matt's twins), has always been on the receiving end of much of her grandparents' fawning. For her second birthday, Mitt brought her to work with him at Bain. Perhaps a more fun trip for a young girl would be to go to the Olympics, which Ann had been hoping to bring her to this coming summer. (As word spread through the ranks of the other 17 grandchildren, it seems Allie's prospects may have dimmed.)
Back in the fall, at a campaign event in Nashua, N.H., Ann discussed having Allie sit with her at a primary debate at Dartmouth. She said Allie was "shaking like a leaf" watching Mitt on stage and, as the night wore on, was nervous about falling asleep while the cameras were on her.
"It's not just Mitt that's out there," said Ann, taking Allie's concerns into account. "The kids are out there, the grandchildren are praying for Mitt every day, they're calling us, they're sending us notes." She said when she returned home, her granddaughter welcomed her back with hugs and homemade strawberry jam.
Ann also said that the deep ties that the family shared was due to Mitt's strong sense of values. "All five sons are married and excellent husbands and fathers because they saw their father." From the road, Ann is the keeper of the "Romney calendar", a physical hard copy of a calendar that has everyone's birthdays and anniversaries on it. She buys presents for everyone in bulk and dutifully ships them out on time.
Kennedy family similarity?
It's hard to deny a possible historical echo to another big Bay State based clan - The Kennedys. Joseph and Rose Kennedy had 10 children and 29 grandchildren. That political dynasty was known to gather at their waterfront compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., about a three-hour drive down the New England coast from the Romneys' New Hampshire lake house. There is a certain all-American persona to the grandchildren in both families, good-looking, well-groomed and nautically inclined.
Despite the similarities, Tagg says he does not see a strong comparison between his family and theirs.
"I have not thought about it for one minute. You've got to be who you are."
Of course, Mitt Romney does hope his grandchildren think of him in the same regard of the president who preceded Kennedy: Ike Eisenhower.