WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney was a mere 15 years old when he made his first campaign-trail gaffe.
On the stump during his father's first gubernatorial bid in Michigan, Romney let loose the family secret: "It's really fun to be here in the United States for the Fourth of July for the first time!" an ecstatic Mitt Romney told the crowd during a town celebration.
The Romney family, after all, had a tradition of spending Independence Day at its vacation home in Canada, according to a Boston Globe story. Not something you necessarily want to tout when trying to show off your family's patriotism.
The young Romney soon learned the ways of the campaign stump speech, a lesson he is now passing on to his children as he makes his bid for the White House.
Mitt Romney's eldest son, Taggart - or Tagg, for short - left his job as the chief marketing officer of the L.A. Dodgers to work full-time on his father's campaign, and two other sons, Josh and Craig, are working on it part time.
For the Romneys, this campaign is a family effort.
"I think it is important to have us out there . . . talking to people and letting them know what he's like," says Tagg, 37. "There is nothing more important to me than having our country led by a good person who is extremely confident. I think that person is my dad."
Family members have been a common sight on the campaign trail for many presidential candidates. Al Gore's daughters, Kristin and Karenna, joined him on the stump in 2000, as did John Kerry's kids in his 2004 White House bid. President Bush's twin girls, Jenna and Barbara, were prominently featured in both his presidential campaigns.
This time around, other kids are integral to the race.
John Edwards was quoted in the Des Moines Register saying he plans to hire a tutor so his kids can miss school and join the family on the campaign trail, and Barack Obama said recently he brought his daughters to Iowa with him.
John McCain's two sons are active-duty military, but his eldest daughter has campaigned for him in New York, where she's attending school, and may join her dad to visit key states later this year, his campaign says.
Rudy Giuliani already has faced questions about his son, Andrew, who is estranged from his father and not likely to campaign for him.
Romney, however, is doing his best to show off a traditional family as he campaigns as a conservative with values the American people want in a president. His campaign launched a new Web site, fivebrothers.mittromney.com, which features a blog by Romney's five sons, along with links to their Myspace.com profiles.
For Tagg Romney, the decision to leave Los Angeles and a top job with a premier ball club was a tough one. But now that he's back home, down the street from his dad's place in Belmont, Mass., he says the move was the right one.
A graduate of Brigham Young University and Harvard Business School, Tagg Romney has himself been mentioned as a possible future candidate. But for now, his unpaid spot on the campaign means crisscrossing the country, meeting with potential supporters, glad-handing donors and heralding his father at every opportunity.
"He's extremely intelligent, highly energetic," Tagg says. "He doesn't see the brick walls, he just runs right through them."
For candidates, putting their children on the campaign trail can be tricky, says Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He's written several books about the presidency, including See how they ran: The changing role of the presidential candidate.
There are pluses and minuses to bringing your kid on the trail or sending one out as a surrogate, Troy says.
"For the image side, on one hand, as with the candidates' wives, candidates' kids are valuable props," he says. "They convey, without having to get involved in any complex cultural wars, that the candidate stands for goodness, and family values and the American way of life."
On the other hand, he says, the campaign trail can be "hell" for a family, and even disastrous if a candidate loses. And, he adds, "most of these people are going to lose."
It also opens up the candidate's family to scrutiny. A family member trotted out on behalf of the campaign may also, if he or she carries baggage, become fair game for critics.
Tagg says things are going well for him so far on the campaign. He said the start was bumpy - he'd give himself a C-minus for his initial speeches - but now he's getting into the rhythm. Following the family tradition, he's even brought his 11-year-old daughter, Allie, on the trail with him.
"I'm very, very grateful to be in this position," Tagg says. He calls the experience a "big adventure."