By Niall Stanage - 08/29/12 02:57 AM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. —Ann Romney delivered a deeply personal address on behalf of her husband to the Republican National Convention here Tuesday night, telling the capacity crowd that Mitt Romney is a compassionate leader, not the icy-hearted plutocrat that Democrats portray.
“This man will not fail. This man will not let us down,” she said to loud applause as black and white images of the couple were projected behind her on the convention stage. “This man will lift up America.”
“It amazes me to see his history of success actually being attacked. Are those really the values that made our country great? As a mom of five boys, do we want to raise our children to be afraid of success?” she asked rhetorically.
A surprise appearance by Mitt Romney, who joined his wife onstage at the end of her speech further delighted the crowd. The couple embraced, kissed briefly and walked hand-in-hand around the stage as the old Temptations’ hit “My Girl” played.
Romney’s 21-minute appearance became stronger as time went on. In its early moments, her voice was nervous to the point where a slight quaver could be heard. Some early light-hearted observations fell slightly flat in the convention hall.
But there were, later in the speech, a number of relatively subtle, yet unmistakable, jabs at President Obama —which we met with raucous delight by the crowd.
“Mitt Romney was not handed success. He built it,” she said, drawing one of her standing ovations for the allusion to the president’s now-infamous comment.
She also sought to depict her husband’s reticence about personal matters as an admirable thing — and, by extension, suggested the president’s greater willingness to talk in those terms was gratuitous.
“Mitt doesn't like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point,” she said,
The would-be first lady’s speech was particularly pivotal given that her husband continues to trail Obama by significant margins on the question of likability. A Gallup poll released late last week found that 54 percent of Americans find Obama the more likable of the two men, as against 31 percent who favor Romney.
He also suffers a big deficit among female voters. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted earlier this month found that Romney lagged 10 percentage points behind Obama — 51 percent to 41 percent — among women.
Ann Romney went straight at that vulnerability. “I love you women!” she proclaimed with a laugh, in a departure from her prepared remarks.
Obama will fight hard to retain his advantage, however. At a campaign event in Colorado Tuesday, Obama said of Republicans “On issue after issue, these guys seem to just want to go backwards...In November you can say that in this century, women should be trusted to make their own health care decisions.”
The more intimate story Ann Romney had to tell about her husband— near the conclusion of an evening that featured a number of prominent Republican women including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley— might help reduce the gap.
Her remarks were clearly intended to push back against the idea that she and her husband had enjoyed an idyllic and wealthy existence that left them far removed from the concerns of middle-class Americans hit hard by tough economic times.
She highlighted the modest circumstances of their early married life together.
“We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish. Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining room table was a fold down ironing board in the kitchen. But those were the best days,” she said.
She also alluded to her own struggles with ill-health — and the challenges inherent in raising a large family.
“I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage,’” she told the crowd inside the Tampa Times Forum. “Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called ‘MS’ or ‘Breast Cancer.’
“A storybook marriage?,” she continued. “No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.”
Romney’s references to her travails were consistent with a greater willingness on her part, and on her husband’s, to talk about more intimate areas of their life. In an interview with CBS’s “This Morning” on Tuesday, Ann Romney talked about a miscarriage that she had suffered when she was in her 40s.
She also spoke about her father’s death-bed advice to her during an ABC World News interview with Diane Sawyer. She said that when her father had just “hours to live”, he had told her “live your life. Enjoy every moment. Do everything you can. Dream every dream you want.”