Ann Romney speech: Did she help women voters warm to Mitt?

Ann Romney, speaking at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday night, made one of the campaign's strongest pitches yet to women voters, a demographic with whom it is badly trailing.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Ann Romney addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday night.

Ann Romney's job Tuesday night, according to pretty much everyone, was to "humanize" her husband and to show the softer side that voters rarely see.

So it was no surprise that Mrs. Romney focused on matters of the heart – she used the word "love" 14 times in her speech – and talked about their high-school romance, the struggles the couple has overcome, or why, as she put it, "you can trust Mitt."

"This man will not fail," she told her audience, emphatically, at the Republican National Convention here. "This man will not let us down. This man will lift up America."

Mrs. Romney also made one of the campaign's strongest pitches to women voters, a demographic with which it's been struggling.

"I love you women!" she yelled, early in her speech, to raucous applause. "And I hear your voices."

Dressed in Nancy Reagen red, smiling broadly, Ann Romney gave a solid performance during her first big moment in the national spotlight. She looked nervous at first but seemed to relax as the speech went on – and as she moved to the subjects she's most comfortable with: her husband, her marriage, and why she believes he can fix America.

She recalled the high-school dance where she first met Mitt, before launching into some of the struggles they've had since:

"I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a 'storybook marriage,' " Romney said. "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? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage."

In an effort to answer critics who say Americans can't relate to the couple's privileged life, Romney talked about all the pasta and tuna fish she and her husband ate when he was a grad student, how hard Mitt worked for his success, and what he does to help others.

"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, in another crowd-pleasing line.

It was harder for her to achieve authenticity when she spoke in more universal terms, about "our brothers and our sisters who are going through difficult times." She cited single dads, working moms, and parents who lie awake "wondering how they'll be able to pay the mortgage or make the rent."

In doing so, she looked like a "corporate wife" who's never had to struggle, Fox News commentator Juan Williams said after her speech, in remarks for which he took a great deal of heat online. "She did not convince me that ... 'I understand the struggles for the American woman in general.' "

But most commentators felt Romney was wildly successful.

"Ann Romney did exactly what her husband and his campaign needed her to: she told the story of a Mitt Romney that almost no one in the country knows," wrote the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, calling her one of the night's "winners."

Tom Brokaw of NBC News, meanwhile, pronounced Ann Romney and Michelle Obama "the two best campaigners in this campaign," and said that in Tuesday night's speech, Ann Romney "was more animated in many ways than [Mitt] has been in his big speeches."

Romney spoke just before the convention's keynote speaker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. In an interesting dichotomy, while Romney set up her speech by saying, "I want to talk to you about love," Governor Christie went a different route. "When you have to choose between being loved and being respected," Christie said, his mother taught him to always pick respect.

Ann Romney's biggest audience was the millions of television viewers and independent voters whom the Romney campaign hopes will see a different side of Mitt Romney through his wife's eyes.

But for the already-friendly crowd at the convention – many of them waving "women love Ann" posters – there was no question that her speech connected. And, especially once she settled into her rhythm, she elicited more enthusiastic responses than any other speaker on the first night of the convention.

"She showed she's a real person like everyone else," said Julie Fullmer, a convention guest from Missouri, right after the speech. "She's a mom and a wife like everyone else. Money doesn't solve all your struggles."

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