TAMPA—On the first night of speechmaking at the 2012 Republican National Convention, Ann Romney tried to sell women on her husband, Mitt Romney, and the country on his leadership ability.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tried to explain to both the reason for not reelecting President Obama.
A convention shortened by a day due to Hurricane Isaac’s passage through the nearby Gulf of Mexico created a compressed speaking schedule and a slightly incoherent juxtaposition.
It pitted a passionate wife speaking of the boy she met at a high school dance against a brash, street-fighting politician urging the country to follow his lead in solving its problems.
The back-to-back speeches, which individually had been set to cap the convention’s first two nights before Monday’s events were folded into Tuesday’s, had twin aims: warming up the image of the candidate himself while trying to pierce any remaining enthusiasm for his opponent.
Bubbling with excitement, Ann Romney channeled Oprah as she described the hard lives many women lead and then sought a kinship by saying, “I have been all over this country and I know a lot of you guys.”
Addressing a sisterhood of mothers and family leaders, she suggested Obama and the Democratic Party had let them down—despite polls showing her husband facing a gender gap with more women liking the president than her husband.
“We’re too smart to know there aren’t easy answers. But we’re not dumb enough to accept that there aren’t better answers,” she said.
The wife of the newly minted Republican presidential nominee then segued to speaking about “this man I met at a high school dance.”
While she and her husband today have a fortune estimated at up to $250 million, Ann Romney disputed that they lived in a fantasy world.
“I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage,’” she said. “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?” she added. “Nope, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.”
She labeled her husband a “good and decent man,” and pledged that the same drive that made him wealthy, allowed him to turn around an ailing Olympics, and push unemployment in Massachusetts back under 5 percent, will let him turn around the US economy.
She closed with a flat proclamation.
“You can trust Mitt,” she said as her five sons sat in the convention center’s family box, some wiping tears from their eyes. “He loves America. He will take us to a better place, just as he took me home safely from that dance.”
During his keynote convention speech, Christie assumed the role expected of him as the tough-talking leader of a blue-collar state.
He peppered his remarks with references to Bruce Springsteen, the Jersey Shore, and his own straight-talking mother, recalling her admonition to him that it is better to be respected than loved.
He pivoted from that motherly advice to his critique of President Obama.
“I believe we have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved,” Christie told the delegates.
He said the Democratic plan for the country is to “whistle a happy tune while driving us off the fiscal cliff, as long as they are behind the wheel of power.”
The governor recalled his own efforts to take on public sector unions as he combatted his state’s financial problems. He said the country needed a similar style of leadership.
“The disciples of yesterday’s politics underestimated the will of the people,” said Christie. “They assumed our people were selfish; that when told of the difficult problems, tough choices, and complicated solutions, they would simply turn their backs, that they would decide it was every man for himself. Instead, the people of New Jersey stepped up and shared in the sacrifice. They rewarded politicians who led instead of politicians who pandered.”
Christie called for a “second American Century” led by Romney and rooted in “real American exceptionalism.”
The crowd in the Tampa Bay Times Forum rose to its feet to cheer his challenge.Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.