For many of us, having an uncle who is a serious contender for the White House might be surreal.
But for Ronna Romney McDaniel, Mitt Romney's niece, it's not new territory.
The Northville resident's mom ran for U.S. Senate and her grandfather is former Michigan governor George Romney. Her father is Mitt Romney's older brother. This political season, Romney McDaniel has been the political director for Mitt Romney's campaign in Michigan and organized several grassroots efforts.
Romney McDaniel grew up and went to school in Bloomfield Hills. She went on to college at the Mormon-based Brighman Young University. She has worked and lived around the country before coming back to Northville about four-and-a-half years ago, where several other Romneys live nearby. All of her children and nieces and nephews attend the same schools.
"I love Northville," she said. "It's just home to me. I love seeing it grow and thrive."
In an interview with Northville Patch, she talks about what this political season has been like for her, some of her views on this primary season and whether or not she'll vote for Rick Santorum if he clinches the Republican nomination.
What has it been like for you being involved in your uncle's campaign?
I'm so proud of him. I think he's done a great job. I did say to him recently, I saw him and he's very thin: "how is it that you're losing weight and I'm gaining weight though this process?" Because there's stress watching someone you love and you know in a different way than everybody else being attacked ... knowing how hard they're working.
How do you deal with watching your uncle being targeted in negative ads?
I think growing up in Michigan, I was around politics a lot. So I do think you develop a little thicker skin, so you realize this is part of the process. There is a part that you just feel for the people. You're so grateful that they're running and they're putting themselves out there. It's unfortunate that we have this negative element to politics. And yeah, it does hurt your feelings when you want to protect the people you love. That part's hard.
How did you contribute to the campaign here in Michigan?
I literally for two weeks lived in the campaign headquarters day and night, and so did my kids and so did my husband. We knew that we could make a difference ... I'm actually the political director for Mitt's campaign in Michigan which meant that I helped run the volunteer phone bank. I helped get that up and running. I got the volunteers in, kept them motivated and made sure they knew they were part of something important and that they were so appreciated for what they did. We had the most amazing volunteers.
What is it about Mitt Romney that translated to big wins in the primary in this area?
The economy is a driving factor in Michigan, especially in my neighborhood. We all know someone who's lost their home. We all have friends who have lost their jobs. We've all seen struggling. We know the economy has to be set on its right course. So I think Mitt embodies the candidate that will get our economy back on track. I think Northville-Novi looked to him and I have to believe that was the number one factor with them .
Mitt Romney has been widely characterized as a centrist candidate. Do you think that's a fair assessment?
I think he's a conservative in the sense that he wants smaller government, to get rid of the deficit, get rid of the debt. A lot of his policies fiscally are completely conservative and his social policies are conservative. When somebody asked him, "What's the greatest misperception about you?" He said, "Because I governed in the State of Massachussetts, people think that I'm a liberal and that's not true." The thing he does show in governing in Massachussetts is that he's able to work with the other party and get things done. He went in a state with a $3 billion deficit and turned that around. He couldn't have done that without working with his 85 percent Democrat legislature. I think that resonates with people who want to see things get done in Washington.
We've heard nationally that the Republican Party is seeing an unprecedented division within itself – with tea party Republicans, neoconservatives, fiscal and social conservatives, etc. Do you think Mitt Romney will be able to bring these factions together?
I think Mitt can relate to all elements of the Republican Party. There are different factions that come in. He's more of a Reagan-type conservative with the big tent that will bring all different elements together. Right now, it doesn't seem that way but I think that if he gets the nomination we will see him quickly coalesce the entire base, the tea party, the fiscal conservatives, Independents that are worried about the economy. But I don't think he can be characterized as one type of Republican, which is a good thing...I think he'll represent all Republicans.
Speaking of the tea party, it has grown a lot recently. Is Mitt Romney finding that he has to move more to the right to appeal to that group?
We had an with the tea party and I'm friends with the woman who runs the Rattle Us (tea party) group out of Plymouth ... I think his message really resonates with the tea party. He's never worked in D.C. He's a fiscal conservative. I don't see the divide. I think there's this narrative that he doesn't connect with them but I think he's exactly the conservative the tea party is looking for. They're concerned about being over-taxed. He's gonna reduce the tax rate, he's gonna balance the budget, get rid of the deficit. He has a real plan to get our fiscal house in order and I think that is a huge platform of the Tea Party.
Now that the primary in Michigan is done, what's next for you?
I'm getting nine loads of laundry done as we speak. The balance, the life balance was off because we just completely dropped everything for the campaign. Right now, we're just in wait. We'll do calls, we'll do anything we can to support Mitt ... if he ends up being the nominee, then I'll work on the campaign in Michigan and find a role there - whatever I can do to help.
You have a different insight into what kind of guy Mitt Romney is than what we see on TV. How would you describe your Uncle Mitt?
I think he is just the most amazing father and husband. You hear that and it sounds almost too good to be true but he really is ... As my dad has struggled in his life, he has been such a good brother. He's just the type of person who cares for you, who reaches out ... I just know that Mitt's doing this for the right reasons.
You can't say that to the voters. If they knew his heart, you would know he is just so motivated about everything in our country and what he can do to help fix our country. I know that's true.
If Rick Santorum wins the nomination, will you cast your vote for him?
Anybody that wins the nomination will have some healing to do. Obviously as Mitt's neice, he's not on my favorite list right now, Santorum isn't. But I think he can heal the party. The question is whether he can win Independents. I don't think he can on that front. But I'll support him if he's the nominee.