Wives in ads, kids on the bus as GOP voting nears

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Mitt Romney’s wife gushes about his silly side and devotion to their five sons and 16 grandchildren. Rick Santorum’s college-age daughter opines online about missing the campus coffee shop and chats with friends about their Friday night plans. Jon Huntsman’s daughters generate much-needed buzz for him with a joint Twitter account and online videos, including at least one that went viral.

Days away from voting in the Republican presidential race, the path to the nomination is quickly becoming a crowded family affair with spouses and offspring pitching in and doing far more than just smiling from the sidelines.

Ann Romney, Anita Perry and Callista Gingrich are starring in new TV ads for the husbands they’ve loyally campaigned for. Romney extols her husband’s character and says “to me that makes a huge difference” in a candidate. Perry tells the “old-fashioned American story” of how she and her husband were high school sweethearts who had to wait until he was done flying airplanes around the world for the Air Force before they could marry. Callista Gingrich wishes the nation a Merry Christmas “from our family to yours” in Gingrich’s new holiday-themed TV ad.

Candidate kids, including those born to Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, are helping, too, acting as surrogates, strategists and, in some cases, sounding boards for parents competing for the right to challenge President Barack Obama next fall.

Such involvement can be a huge asset to the presidential hopefuls, typically in highlighting a politician’s softer side.

But the relatives are hardly polished public speakers who agree with everything their loved one says or does, and their slip-ups, potential conflicts and backgrounds can have consequences for the candidates.