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  1. Florida Politics

Ann Romney projects confidence, warmth in speech on her husband

Elizabeth Crate, 9, daughter of Mitt Romney campaign treasurer Darrell Crate, listens to the Pledge of Allegiance on Tuesday. Bob Fish of Parkersburg, West Va., is at left.
Published Aug. 29, 2012

TAMPA

Ann Romney caressed and Chris Christie punched, delivering rousing speeches Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention that were designed to rally Republicans behind Mitt Romney and show him on more personal terms.

"I can't tell you what will happen over the next four years," Mrs. Romney said. "But I can only stand here tonight, as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an American, and make you this solemn commitment: This man will not fail. This man will not let us down. This man will lift up America."

Delegates leapt to their feet at the line, waving signs that read, "We Love Ann."

At the end of the remarks, her husband walked on the stage where he will accept the nomination Thursday, embraced her and they kissed. The band played My Girl.

The 63-year-old Mrs. Romney — with her five sons watching from a box in the Tampa Bay Times Forum — projected confidence and warmth, attributes that have made her a valuable presence on the campaign trail.

"I want to talk not about what divides us, but what holds us together as an American family," she said. "I want to talk to you tonight about that one great thing that unites us, that one great thing that brings us our greatest joy when times are good, and the deepest solace in our dark hours.

"Tonight," she said, wearing a radiant red dress and taking the stage to roars, "I want to talk to you about love.

"I want to talk to you about the deep and abiding love I have for a man I met at a dance many years ago. And the profound love I have, and I know we share, for this country."

Mrs. Romney sought to shore up support among women voters, extolling shared struggles, and tried to show her husband as a real guy, noting how as newlyweds they ate a lot of tuna fish and pasta in a basement apartment.

"Mitt Romney was not handed success," she said. "He built it." Confronting his wealth, she said it had helped give their sons opportunities and alluded to quiet acts of charity.

Christie, the governor of New Jersey and the convention's keynote speaker, also talked about love. "I believe we have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved," he said, calling on politicians to make difficult decisions to restore the country's greatness.

"It's been easy for our leaders to say 'Not us, and not now,' in taking on the really tough issues. And we've stood silently by and let them get away with it," Christie said. "But tonight, I say enough."

The primetime speeches, coming after a tumultuous start to the convention due to Hurricane Isaac, were choreographed to inject energy and emotion into a campaign that has at times struggled for both, and raucous cheers confirmed they had achieved both goals.

Now, the arguments have to resonate with a tougher audience.

The speeches concluded a day in which Romney was formally nominated and propped up by a string of advocates. Other speakers hailed Romney as a man who can fix the economy and pounded away at an overriding theme — "We Built It."

The slogan, carried on dozens of signs held aloft by delegates and emblazoned on the wall, trades on a remark President Barack Obama made recently that successful businesses got support from public investments, such as roads and bridges.

The Obama campaign has charged Republicans with grossly distorting the meaning, but the line has become an anchor in Tampa. "President Obama has never even run a lemonade stand, and it shows," said U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Christie is the Grand Old Party's swashbuckler, a rotund, verbal brawler known to stray from the script. He did not Tuesday night, telling the story of his parents' humble beginnings and bragging about his record as governor. Christie's speech was forceful but notably lacking sustained attacks on Obama.

"I believe in America and her history," he said. "There's only one thing missing now. Leadership. It takes leadership that you don't get from reading a poll. You see, Mr. President, real leaders don't follow polls. Real leaders change polls."

Christie flirted with running for president and even now, with Romney set to accept the nomination Thursday, there are many in Tampa who had hoped he had. By giving Christie the keynote address, Romney is trying to absorb some of the passion Christie evokes among the GOP base.

If Romney is not successful in November, Christie, 49, will jump to the forefront of a crop of presidential candidates. As much as his speech was to garner enthusiasm for Romney, it also serves Christie's ambitions.

So it was Mrs. Romney who faced the greatest challenge: Selling the real Mitt Romney to America — the husband, father, the goofball, something entirely more dynamic and warm than his often stiff campaign persona.

"She's the humanizer," said Bruce Azevedo, 59, a Georgia delegate. "Right now all we know about Romney is he's a businessman. When people are exciting and you feel natural about them, you gravitate toward them. That hasn't happened as much as it should with Romney."

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday found 51 percent of voters view Romney unfavorably and only 40 percent view him favorably. That's the lowest personal popularity of any nominee in nearly 30 years.

Mrs. Romney said her millionaire husband's father, George Romney, never graduated from college and worked as a carpenter, then worked his way up the ladder, first as a car company executive then three terms as governor of Michigan.

She brought up her battles with breast cancer and multiple sclerosis and tried to dispel a Stepford-like image her family has been tagged with.

"I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a 'storybook marriage.' Well, let me tell you something, 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? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage."

She said her husband has been determined throughout life, eager to take on a challenge, singling out his work with the 2002 Olympic games and as governor of Massachusetts.

"This is the man who will wake up every day with the determination to solve the problems that others say can't be solved, to fix what others say is beyond repair. This is the man who will work harder than anyone so that we can work a little less hard."

Ann Romney traveled with her husband Tuesday to Tampa, where she'll campaign today, displaying charm and wit as she waded to the back of the campaign plane to speak with reporters. She lamented how she had not read off a TelePrompTer before and joked that her speech could be reduced to a 140-character Twitter post.

She handed out welsh cakes, explaining how she tweaked her grandmother's recipe to make them moister. And she joked how she was getting fashion advice from a rumpled campaign consultant.

"The funniest thing of all is that Stuart Stevens, who wears his shirts inside-out, is advising me on what dress I should wear tonight," she said. "So I know I've come really full-circle now."

Times staff writers Steve Bousquet, Adam C. Smith and POLITICO reporter Ginger Gibson contributed to this report.

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