TAMPA, Fla. — Did Ann Romney connect?
That remains to be seen. The 20-minute speech that she delivered Tuesday night was meant ostensibly for the Republican National Convention — and the nation — but it was aimed most directly at the hearts and minds of the women voters who have had trouble warming up to her husband.
In a brilliant red Oscar de la Renta frock — belted at the waist, elbow-length sleeves, and a slightly belled skirt — Romney looked like a fabulous housewife. Which she proudly is. An unapologetic stay-at-home mom who raised five boys, she has never run from the role she chose at a time when women were going to work in droves.
Giggling nervously on occasion, and sometimes putting the emphasis on the wrong word, she spoke glowingly of “this boy I met at a high school dance,” told the story of her family’s rise from humble beginnings and conveyed her empathy with the struggle of everyday Americans, especially women.
In sharing the story of her family, it was clear that her unspoken task was convincing people that despite her immense wealth, she is just like them. And that her husband, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, can be trusted with America’s future, as she trusted him with hers.
“I’ve been all across this country, and I know a lot of you guys,” she said, “and I have seen and heard these stories of how hard it is to get ahead now. You know what? I’ve heard your voices: They’ve said, ‘I’m running in place,’ ‘We just can’t get ahead.’”
The burdens, she said, are felt most by women. “It’s the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, and we are the daughters. You know it’s true, don’t you?”
Departing from her prepared remarks, Romney raised her voice and said, “I love you women!”
The granddaughter of a Welsh coal miner, she was born after her father came to America at age 15. “In our country, he saw hope and opportunity to escape from poverty.”
She spoke about the early years of her marriage, and watching her husband start a company that would earn success beyond their wildest dreams.
“There were many reasons to delay marriage, and you know, we just didn’t care,” Romney said. “We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish. Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining room table was a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen. But those were the best days.”
When she had her first son at 22, she said, expressing a universal thought of new mothers, “it dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.”
She has been called her husband’s most important character witness, and Tuesday night was perhaps her most critical testimony.
“I know this good and decent man for what he is — he is warm and loving and patient,” she said. “From the time we were first married, I’ve seen him spend countless hours helping others. I’ve seen him drop everything to help a friend in trouble, and been there when late-night calls of panic came from a member of our church whose child had been taken to the hospital.”
She spoke about how her husband took risks to build a company whose success “has helped fund scholarships, pensions and retirement funds. … At every turn in his life, this man I met at a high school dance, has helped lift up others. He did it with the Olympics, when many wanted to give up. He did it in Massachusetts, where he guided a state from economic crisis to unemployment of just 4.7 percent.”
“This is the man America needs,” she said.
At the end of the speech, as the band played The Temptations hit “My Girl,” her husband walked onstage, embraced her and kissed her twice.
“You were fabulous,” he said.