ST. PETERSBURG — Mitt Romney took an emotional turn Friday night at a twilight rally on the shore of Tampa Bay.
Hours after delivering an economy-centric speech in "coal country" in rural Virginia, Romney told stories of three people who died, drawing lessons from their lives to testify to the greatness of America.
It was a striking and emotional moment for the candidate, whose public persona has generally been defined as somewhere between wooden and robotic.
For the first time in public since announcing his bid for the White House, Romney told the story himself of a 14-year-old dying boy, David Oparowski, who asked for the help of "Brother Romney" in drawing up a will. The boy's mother, Pat Oparowski, a member of Romney's Mormon ward, told the story of Romney assisting her son settle his affairs at the GOP convention in a story that left much of the hall in tears. Dozens could be spotted wiping their eyes as Romney retold the story himself.
Romney described meeting the boy, who had leukemia, at his home not long before he died.
"He said, 'Mitt, what’s next,'" Romney said. "He called me Brother Romney. What’s next? And I talked to him about what I believe is next."
"I went to David’s bedside and got a piece of legal paper, made it look very official," Romney said, recounting a meeting shortly afterwards at a hospital. "And then David proceeded to tell me what he wanted to give his friends. Talked about his fishing rod, and who would get that. He talked about his skateboard, who’d get that. And his rifle, that went to his brother."
Romney quoted from one of his favorite TV shows, "Friday Night Lights," to describe the character of Oparowski.
"I’ve seen the character of a young man like David, who wasn’t emotional or crying. He had his eyes wide open. There’s a saying, clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose. David couldn’t lose. I loved that young man," Romney said.
He also recounted meeting an old friend from his graduate school days at an Atlanta fundraiser three weeks ago. The man, Billy Hulse, was a quadriplegic following an accident.
"And I put my hand on Billy’s shoulder and I whispered into his ear, and I said, 'Billy, God bless you, I love ya,'" Romney said. "And he whispered right back to me — and I couldn’t quite hear what he said. He tried to speak loud enough for me to hear."
"He died the next day," Romney recounted, as the crowd deflated and expressed sympathy.
Fresh off a debate victory on Wednesday night which proved his bolstered his "presidential" image, Romney is trying to seal the deal with voters by allowing them to see his oft-hidden emotional side.
A third story recounted the story of Jane Horton, the wife of a military sharpshooter who was killed in Afghanistan:
On the day she’s packaging up some goodies to go in his birthday package, a knock comes at the door, and they inform her that her husband had been killed, and she decides to devote herself to helping the families of others who have lost their loved ones. He was killed on September 9th 2011. And this was a time when some very misguided people were protesting at the funerals of our servicemen and women—you recall that? And they came to the funeral of her husband. And she was asked, what do you think about this, and this is the quote—she said this: ‘Chris died for them to be able to protest.’ Chris died for them to be able to protest. This is quite a nation we live in, with some extraordinary people.