Ann Romney on Jay Leno: How did she do?

Ann Romney appeared on 'The Tonight Show,' and while she wasn't polished, she humanized Mitt quite well. The question is: Why wasn't she doing this in July? Now, it might be too late.

Paul Drinkwater/NBC/REUTERS
Ann Romney appears on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in Burbank, Calif., Tuesday.

Ann Romney was on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” Tuesday for what NBC billed as her first late-night talk show appearance. So how’d the wife of the GOP presidential nominee do, keeping in mind that she’s a much less experienced television campaigner than first lady Michelle Obama?

We’ll agree with Bloomberg News columnist Margaret Carlson here – we think she did fine.

“Ann Romney had a smooth go of it on Tuesday night, contrary to some recent appearances when her beautiful façade showed some cracks,” writes Carlson Wednesday.

Cracks? Carlson’s perhaps referring to an incident when Mrs. Romney snapped back at GOP critics, telling them to “stop it,” during a Radio Iowa interview last week.

Some commentators thought that showed the stress of the campaign might be reaching her. And Romney herself, coming out of that interview, thought she might have been “a little strong.” That’s the phrase she used when describing her recollection to Mr. Leno Tuesday night.

“But everyone I’ve seen is giving me high fives about it,” she said.

Mrs. Mitt on “Tonight” did not come off with the polish of a seasoned pol. But she didn’t have to. Instead, she showed why a candidate’s spouse today may be their most important surrogate campaigner – as does the first lady during her own TV turns.

First, the spouse gets to repeat key talking points without having to provide detailed backup info. Asked by Leno about her husband’s comments at a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans believe they’re “victims” and are mired in government dependency, Romney said, “You don’t like those things to get misinterpreted.... We care about the 100 percent.... Two things about Mitt: He cares, and he’s competent.”

We mean no disrespect by pointing out the high likelihood that Romney staffers asked Romney to repeat the words “cares” and “competent” as many times as possible. And on a late night show, it’s unlikely you’ll get asked to unpack those assertions and say more specifically what they mean.

Romney also got in a good plug aimed at the women’s vote. When insisting that she’s behind her husband’s run 100 percent – despite having made a video in 2008 in which she looked into a camera and told Mitt she’d “never do this again” – she said that her husband had the skill to help people hurt by today’s bad economy.

“Especially women. More women are slipping into poverty,” she said.

But the real virtue of spouses on the stump is their ability to humanize the candidate, of course, and it’s here that Romney does best. On “Tonight” she referred to the time Mitt helped a dying boy organize his affairs. She talked about his “playaholic” ways with their five boys when they were young. She talked about how they met, and managed to say he wasn’t a good dancer without really saying it.

“You know, Jay, he’s gotten to be a better dancer,” was what she said.

She admitted that she used to dress the boys for church the night before, so they could just pop out of bed and race to the car. And she described her husband as “cheap” – a fan of Costco, somebody who turns off the water heater when they leave the house, and sometimes forgets-on-purpose to turn it back on.

“He says, ‘Cold showers are not that bad,’ ” she said.

Leno even showed a photo (which the campaign must have supplied) of a checklist taped in the basement of the Romney house that shows what needs to be done prior to leaving on trips, including “take out garbage” and so forth.

Will voters buy this about someone who’s building a car elevator? Well, depending on which way they’re already leaning, they won’t, or they will. The real question may be why nobody heard about this list before they heard about the car elevators, and other evidence of Romney’s wealth.

Romney’s “Tonight” appearance is the first of a round of scheduled TV interviews, but there’s a case to be made they come too late. Her husband’s now falling behind in key swing state polls. Survey show voters find the incumbent more likeable and more empathetic than his GOP challenger.

An earlier blitz of Romney family appearances might have done more to counteract these trends. If not Mrs. Romney, who has health challenges, then what about the boys? All five appeared on “Conan.” They were fine, too – and we bet every other late-night show would have been glad to host them. In July.

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