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Mrs. Romney on Mitt: 'He won't abandon you'

Carrie Dann/NBC

Ann Romney, in a West Des Moines, Iowa, home on Friday, discusses the softer side of her husband, Mitt, the former Massachusetts governor seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Standing comfortably among couches, coffee, and an impeccable Christmas tree in a suburban Iowa living room, Ann Romney wants you to know about the softer side of the man mocked in the press as "The Mitt-Bot." 

"He's there,"  Mrs. Romney said of her husband after describing his tender support for her when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. "He's steadfast. You can count on him. He won't abandon you in the hardest times."

Speaking to a group of about 25 women supporters outside of Des Moines, Mrs. Romney offered the emotional story of her struggle with MS and her associated spiral into depression. She described her husband as a deeply compassionate partner whose unconditional love offered "a turning point in the disease." 

The family motto oft repeated throughout their 42 years of marriage, she said, was: "No other success can compensate for failure in the home." 

The deeply personal anecdotes about the Romney family aren't new material for the former Massachusetts first lady; Mrs. Romney has long spoken about her husband's compassion during her illness. 

But the emphasis on the Romney's 42-year marriage -- and the struggle associated with Ann's illness -- strikes a new nerve as the campaign battles against surging Newt Gingrich, a candidate once largely dismissed as an also-ran because of his personal indiscretions and extramarital affairs.

Offering a stark contrast Friday to Romney's caricature as the political equivalent of a CPU with Ken-doll hair, his wife described him as a fun-loving and even mischievous father.

"Mitt is not what you think at home. He is my most disobedient child," she joked. 

"He likes to play jokes. He likes to always have a light moment."

Garrett Haake contributed to this report.