August 22, 2012 at 1:00 am

Romney's Michigan family unites at GOP convention

Romney family members pitch in
Romney family members pitch in: Ronna Romney, Mitt Romney's ex-sister-in-law, and Ronna Romney McDaniel, Mitt's niece, talk about their role in his campaign.

Northville — She's a mother of two, an active Michigan Republican Party volunteer and happens to bear the name of the GOP's top candidate.

Now, Ronna Romney McDaniel of Northville will be among Michigan's 30 voting delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa next week who will solidify her uncle Mitt Romney as the party's nominee for president.

Playing two roles, she's helped organize nearly 140 members of the Romney family from around the country, including about 20 in Michigan, to unite in Florida to celebrate the official coronation.

Michigan is where Mitt and wife Ann Romney were born and raised. It's the state father George Romney governed and where he launched his unsuccessful bid for U.S. president in the 1968 election. While Mitt and Ann have long since resided in Massachusetts, the Romney family still has deep Michigan roots that will be represented in Tampa.

Growing up next door to her grandparents, George and Lenore, Ronna Romney McDaniel recalled the one-month road trip her grandfather would take each grandchild on at age 12 to instill in them the beauty of the country. As a child, she didn't realize he was a prominent political figure until an elementary school trip to Michigan's Capitol, when she wondered why her grandpa's picture was hanging there.

Representing the family and Michigan at this moment is an emotional honor, she said.

"My grandfather was such a huge influence in my life," said Romney McDaniel, 39, daughter of Ronna and Scott Romney, Mitt's brother.

George Romney "was larger than life," she said. "He loved this country so much, in his heart, he really did. That passed down to all of us. So I really think about them as I'm going as a delegate. I feel like I'm representing them in some ways."

Entire family gets involved

Scott Romney — at 71, six years older than Mitt — has traveled the country raising money for the campaign as chairman of a fundraising committee. His first convention was in 1964, where he and a teenaged Mitt accompanied their father, then-Michigan Gov. George Romney, who represented a moderate wing of the party pushing for civil rights. George Romney did not support the GOP nominee Barry Goldwater.

Now Scott Romney, an alternate delegate for Michigan, hopes he'll be announcing the votes from Michigan for his brother's presidential nomination.

"It's really a very dramatic point for our family," said Scott Romney, a Bloomfield Hills resident married to Sheri, who has a son, Matthew. "And we believe a dramatic point for the country."

Among other Michigan family traveling to Tampa is another Mitt sibling, Lynn Keenan, 76, who lives in Oakland County. One of Keenan's children and five of Scott Romney's children live in the state along with spouses and grandchildren.

Ronna Romney, the former Michigan National Republican committeewoman and Scott's ex-wife, resides outside of Sarasota, Fla., as well as Northville, and also will make the trip to her first convention since 1996, when she spoke as a U.S. Senate candidate.

John Rakolta Jr. of Bloomfield Hills, who is married to Ronna Romney's sister, Terry, will represent Michigan as an alternate delegate.

Ronna Romney said she had been happily out of the political spotlight after losing in 1996 to U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. But with Mitt on the ticket, she was motivated to join the campaign, believing in his ability to turn the country around.

Though she and Scott divorced more than two decades ago and both have remarried, the two are amicable and she's been welcomed on the campaign.

Reciting a family belief that you can't whine if you haven't worked for change, Ronna Romney has been raising money and recently made rare public campaign stops with her daughter, Romney McDaniel, in Michigan.

Romney McDaniel is the full-time mother of Abigail, 9, and Nash, 7, named after the Nash Rambler car made by her grandfather's company, American Motors Corp.

Growing up in a political family and stumping for her mother's Senate campaign, Romney McDaniel is no stranger to politics. Now, with her uncle on the ticket, she said she was inspired to run the volunteer phone center during the presidential primary and coordinates efforts in Wayne County.

The mother and daughter team, known as Big Ronna and Little Ronna, believe if Mitt wins Michigan, then a Romney will occupy the White House.

"We really made a decision to get in there and work for Mitt," Ronna Romney, 68, said, during an interview in her daughter's Northville home. "This is his home state. This is Ann's home state. And this is the state that we want to see put Mitt over. And we are working very, very hard to make that happen."

Delegation scores perks

About 500 Michiganians are expected to travel to Tampa, Fla., for the GOP convention, including 112 delegates and alternates as well as their guests.

Just 30 have been granted voting privileges because of a penalty the national party levied on the state for holding its presidential primary earlier than rules allowed. Yet the Michigan delegation scored some notable perks at the convention in its premier hotel assignment and front-row seats at the convention hall.

"Michigan has a great role in this convention because this is the state where Mitt was born," Scott Romney said.

As he acknowledged his father's efforts, Scott Romney described the 2012 convention as an incredible achievement for Mitt.

"My father was a great man and achieved many, many things," he said. "I don't know that I consider him falling short of getting the nomination, I consider him really our hero.

"I can't think of anybody I've ever known or met that is more qualified to be president of the United States than my brother. Since I know him, people say I'm biased, but I also know him more than a lot of other people do, and he's an incredible human being, an incredible person."

Mitt Romney's campaign has energized generations of the storied Michigan political family and perhaps laid the groundwork for future contenders.

As a rising GOP leader, little Ronna said she'd consider runningfor office when her children areolder.

Asked about the prospect of followingin her mother and grandmother's footsteps as a thirdRomney woman for U.S. Senate, little Ronna said, "all I'm thinking about right now is Mitt … and getting my kids ready for school."

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Ronna Romney, right, addresses the crowd campaigning for Mitt Romney and compliments her daughter, Ronna Romney McDaniel, left, with her daughter, Abby, 9, center, at an event in Oakland County. / Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News
Ronna Romney, left, ex-wife of Scott Romney, Mitt Romney’s brother, ... (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Mitt Romney greets his sister Lynn Keenan and brother Scott Romney, both ... (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)