TAMPA, Florida — Ann Romney stole the spotlight at the Republican National Convention from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, with an emotional and at times personal speech introducing herself and her family to the country, and especially to American women.
Mrs. Romney, who has at times helped her at times distant husband connect with his supporters, played a kind of two-step, Oprah Winfrey role — creating a bond of trust with her audience, and then trying to rub some of it off on her husband.
Her speech warmed the hall, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s attempt to follow it with colder arguments seemed discordant.
(The two speeches were not written to go in sequence: Romney had planned to close out the day on Monday with a speech heavy on love, while the rowdy Christie was to bring his combative tone an a day devoted to “We Built It” attacks on Obama, a schedule compressed by Hurricane Isaac.)
Romney devoted the first half of her speech to describing the recession-era plight of American women, adding a strong dose of maternal empathy.
“Sometimes I think that late at night, if we were all silent for just a few moments and listened carefully, we could hear a great collective sigh from the moms and dads across America who made it through another day, and know that they’ll make it through another one tomorrow,” she said, before adding, “And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It’s how it is, isn’t it?”
Romney spoke of her family’s ordinary beginnings — eating lots of pasta and tuna fish as a young newlywed in school living in a basement apartment — of having a newborn with a husband in not one, but two, graduate programs.
She also offered a glimpse of the tensions, big and small, in a life together she said was not as “storybook” as is sometimes written, and began with an interfaith romance.
She continued, “It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right.”
Then, in an Oprah-esque burst of enthusiasm, Romney exclaimed, “I love women!” raising her voice and elongating each word. The crowd gave her the second of a dozen standing ovations.
With the audience now firmly won over, Romney gently pivoted, transitioning her newly-proven credibility to her husband — like a heartfelt endorsement of a book she hoped to turn into a bestseller.
When Mrs. Romney declared that “You can trust Mitt,” what she really was saying is “You trust me, so trust Mitt.”
“He. will. not. fail,” she said, as though from experience — justified later by “He will take us to a better place, just as he took me home safely from that [high school] dance.”
Her objective — to convince viewers that her spouse was a better guy than he perhaps let on — was perhaps best encapsulated in a single line.
“This is important, I want you to hear what I’m going to say. Mitt doesn’t like to talk about helping others, because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point.”
When she finished — as the band launched into a rendition of The Temptations’ classic MoTown hit, “My Girl” — Mitt emerged from backstage clapping, telling his wife “that was fabulous.”