By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
December 05, 2011 12:00 PM

CAMPAIGN 2012

Mitt Romney, a sheen of sweat on his brow, is rolling meatballs and chopping broccoli for six ravenous grandchildren (he has 16 total) gathered this Sunday afternoon at the Belmont, Mass., home of one of his five grown sons. “When your children have kids like rabbits,” the presidential contender jokes with all the naughtiness he can muster, “then their children eat like rabbits.” With a flourish he lifts the meatball tray and breaks into a credible tenor: “O, sole mio …”

Take that, Herman Cain, you’re not the only singing GOP candidate who can cook Italian! Romney, 64, a businessman and former Massachusetts governor, likely didn’t expect to be running neck-and-neck with a newcomer like Cain, who’s never held office, or a stumbling debater like Rick Perry. But that’s where he finds himself, seven weeks before the first Republican primaries. Today, relaxing with wife Ann, 62, and the family, he appears not at all concerned.

Is it bruising to see so many Republicans looking for somebody else?

You’d expect folks to want to see all that our party has to offer and decide who has the best chance of getting the country on the right track. It’s a compliment to be one of the finalists.

Jon Stewart has called you “beige.”

You can always get attention by lighting your hair on fire and saying incendiary things. I can be more animated wrestling with my grandkids, but I don’t think you expect to see a presidential candidate doing what they might do with grandkids at home.

Are you still traveling with Ann’s homemade granola?

I’m a person of streaks. For a while I had to have granola all the time. Now it’s dried fruit, nuts and peanut butter.

Sounds like Michelle Obama‘s diet.

No. People who travel with me note I eat a lot. I have a high metabolism.

Ann Romney: I hate it!

Saying you can eat a lot and burn it off won’t help your likability-

[Laughs.] But I do weigh myself every other day, and if I’ve gained a couple of pounds, I cut back.

What’s your must-see TV?

Modern Family and 30 Rock.

A lot of Evangelicals would say the gay dads in Modern Family don’t meet the definition of ‘family.’

I don’t look at Modern Family as a comment on social phenomena. I look at it as a source of humor.

If you weren’t running for President, what would you be doing?

Ah, working in business and doing my best to encourage my kids to raise my grandkids they way I’d like ’em to.

Are they doing something that you maybe disagree with?

No. Actually my sons and daughters-in-law are doing a better job of raising their kids than Ann and I did with our own. They devote a lot of attention, particularly the fathers, to spending time with the children.

What’s the secret to your 42-year marriage?

Passion. I fell in love with Ann when she was just turning 16, and I’ve been in love ever since.

After an opponent called Mormonism a cult, you said, “I’ve heard worse.” What was worse?

I served a mission in France for 2½ years. Now and then some people on whose doors I might knock would say more interesting things than just “your religion’s a cult.”

If you could clear up one misunderstanding about Mormons, what would it be?

That’s not my responsibility as a candidate, and the church could do a better job describing that than I. But perhaps the greatest is that the real name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We consider Jesus the son of God and without parallel.

Have you ever had a beer?

Never had drinks or tobacco. It’s a religious thing. I tasted a beer and tried a cigarette once, as a wayward teenager, and never did again.

As a multimillionaire, you’re in the top “1 percent.”

I’m not in any way embarrassed for being successful… . What I’ve earned was achieved the old-fashioned way.

With a Harvard MBA and law degree, are you the “intellectual elite”?

That’s right. It’s always been an American value to obtain as much education as possible. My dad never got a college degree and wanted for me what he didn’t have. We battled. I wanted a business degree; he said no, you need a law degree. We compromised by doing both. Now, I wouldn’t suggest mine as the ideal path. [Laughs.] I’d choose one or the other!

What’s on your iPad, if you have one?

Ann: Are you kidding? I don’t want to go to the grocery store without my iPad anymore.

Mitt: On the treadmill, I put it on there. Let’s see: Eagles, Beatles, Roy Orbison, Randy Travis, the Killers. And games: Scrabble, Angry Birds.

Politics feels so bitterly divided. Is there anything you can do?

I had the experience of being governor of Massachusetts [with] my legislature overwhelmingly Democrat. I knew I had to get along to get anything done. So I didn’t attack the opposition on a personal basis.

In the holiday spirit of comity, can you say one thing President Obama has done right?

He’s a good example of a husband and father. Some of his education initiatives-merit pay for the best teachers and school choice-have been positive. The surge in Afghanistan was the right choice. But the plusses are far exceeded by the places where I’d give a minus.

Ann, does your husband have a secret talent we should know about?

Ann: He has a great whistle. I mean, ear-popping. Comes in handy. See? Jon Stewart’s going to think he’s not quite as boring anymore!

People TABLET BONUS VIDEO & RECIPES The Romneys’ Sunday Spaghetti

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