The spouse and the would-be running mate faced similar challenges on Tuesday night, to do for Mitt Romney what he has been unable to do for himself.
Ann Romney, by far the warmer of the couple, had some success. Chris Christie, who flirted with a presidential run, did himself a whole lot of good, but maybe not much for Romney.
They combined to kick off the Republican convention with a singular task: to offer a richer portrait of a nominee who somehow, at this late date, still needs a proper introduction to the American people.
Ann Romney was at her best when she talked about falling for “this boy I met at a high-school dance” who “made me laugh.” Tossing aside the notion that they have a “storybook marriage,” she recalled her struggles with MS and breast cancer, informing the country that they have a “real marriage.” And she sketched her husband’s business career, adding: “Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point.”
But she strained credulity in talking about how they first lived in a basement apartment and ate tuna fish. That struck a false note. And it underscored her rhetorical challenge as an equestrian who is part of a wealthy family: to relate to the problems of ordinary voters.
Ann Romney attempted to do that by talking about the stories she had heard on the trail, the working moms who would like to work a little less hard, the couple not sure they can afford another child, the worry about grocery bills and gas prices. But this soon turned into a blatant bit of pandering for the female vote, with such lines as “you are the hope of America.” Her husband, after all, faces a huge gender gap against Barack Obama.
Still, she finished strong by declaring, “This man will not fail.” And at least some Romney skeptics must have thought, if he’s married to her, he can’t be all bad.
Christie devoted the first part of his speech to himself, as a Springsteen-loving son of the Jersey Shore. Then he made the case that he had saved his state from fiscal ruin. Then he made a heartfelt case for education and entitlement reform.
Finally, the governor got around to the party’s nominee. “Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good paying private-sector jobs again in America,” Christie said.
There was a mild shot at the president—“Real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls”—and a closing call for a Second American Century.
It was an odd approach for a keynote speech. Yes, it contained the requisite praise, but Romney was almost an afterthought. There wasn’t a personal line about Mitt. It was as though the two had never met.
Ann Romney stole the evening, doing exactly what the campaign’s strategists hoped she would do. No single speech can change the perception of a reserved and often awkward politician overnight. But the Romney campaign can hope this was a start.