LARGO — Two weeks after Ann Romney told a crowd of thousands at the Tampa Bay Times Forum how great a man Mitt Romney is and how great a president he would be, she returned to the area Wednesday afternoon to give a shorter version of that message to a smaller, though no less raucous, crowd at Largo Community Center.
There were a few differences between Romney's Republican National Convention speech and Wednesday's appearance. She wore bright blue instead of bright red. This speech got off to a more somber start, as she paid respects to the four American diplomatic personnel killed in Libya on Tuesday. She said their deaths should remind Americans that "freedom is not free, it comes with a price, paid in blood."
But after that, the pitch Romney made Wednesday was similar to the one she made two weeks ago: Mitt Romney is a great father, a great husband and he'd be a great president.
"There are 23 million Americans who need help," she said. "Help is on the way. … This man will not fail. He's going to be the one who will turn the key to this economic engine and get this country going again."
Romney touched on her own struggles with breast cancer and multiple sclerosis and told the predominantly female crowd her husband stood by her through it all. They cheered throughout.
"This is a guy who really cares," Romney said as she relayed stories of her husband's generosity.
The crowd of hundreds started gathering outside the community center more than two hours before Romney's 4:30 p.m. speech. Supporters gripped free tickets printed out from mittromney.com, and braved a few brief rain showers. There was a handful of protesters, but they didn't stay long.
Before the speech, as the line of supporters slowly made its way through security, the people inside listened to a medley of patriotic country music, headlined by the Romney campaign theme song, Born Free by Kid Rock, which played at least three and possibly as many as five times.
Romney was preceded on stage by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Pinellas County Commissioner Nancy Bostock and South Pasadena Mayor Kathleen Peters. Larry Ahern, Republican state representative from St. Petersburg, sat in the front row next to Bondi, Bostock and Peters, but he didn't speak to the crowd. Wednesday was about the ladies.
A giant "Women for Mitt" banner hung behind Romney as she spoke, and dozens of female supporters sat in front of it. A few men sat in their midst as well, apparently oblivious to the incongruous nature of their seat selection.
Romney did say one thing Wednesday that drew a negative reaction. She finished her remarks by urging the crowd to go out and persuade people who voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 to vote Romney this year. The mention of people who voted for Obama drew boos.
Romney wouldn't have had to go far to find an independent voter, though. In the back corner of the ballroom stood Nick Hummel, 19, a St. Petersburg College student from Seminole who helped his grandmother get her tickets online. This is Hummel's first time voting in a presidential election, and he's still waiting for someone to win him over. "Pretty good," Hummel said of Romney's speech. "A lot shorter than I anticipated. … She didn't get very political. But I liked it."
After Romney finished inside, she went outside to talk to the hundreds who couldn't fit into the community center. The crowd inside slowly filed out. Born Free came on again, and some of the women danced their way out the doors, waving tiny American flags over their heads as they sang along. They knew the words by then.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or [email protected]