Salena Zito

"I never imagined that he was teaching me. Looking back, I realize that he didn't need the opinion of a 12-year-old kid."

Those moments taught Romney to think for himself, "to listen and argue your positions with something to back them up with."

Daughter-in-law Jennifer sees the same dynamic between her husband, Tagg, and her father-in-law: "He likes the interaction. He expects you to back up your opinions."

It did not always work out well.

He recalls how his father would take him and his mother "to the styling studio at American Motors, where they would have clay models of future models they were considering. And he would ask my opinion about different cars and different looks.

"I had very distinct views. ... I presume that is why we have such lovely Ramblers," he jokes.

All of the Romneys are avid snow- and water-skiers; in his youth, Mitt Romney was known to ski barefoot but now leaves that to his children.

He enjoys riding horses, although he admits he is no accomplished equestrian like his wife. "I ride Western style and like to go out into the wilderness and see the great expanses," he says.

Riding is one thing Ann misses dearly on the campaign trail, and she says she hopes to find time for it after the Nevada caucuses. A breast cancer survivor who also suffers from multiple sclerosis, she finds riding to be soothing.

In public, Mitt Romney says, he tries "not to wear my faith on my cuff, but instead to live my life as I normally do, and people can understand my values by virtue of seeing my family and seeing how I interact with them ... how I live my life, how I feel about the country based upon the things I say.

"I don't try to describe my values."

At that, Ann reaches over to squeeze his hand -- a gesture that seems to underscore how family genuinely means everything to both of them.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.