This is a big speech—probably bigger than any would-be first lady has had to deliver for some time. After being married to him for 43 years, seemingly happily, it’s probably safe to say that Ann Romney loves Mitt Romney very much. The challenge she faces is that few other people in the country, even in the Republican Party, seem to love Mitt Romney very much. The candidate himself doesn’t put much stock in it, telling Parade magazine recently, “It's nice to be loved, but it's better to be respected.”
Yet to judge from the poll numbers, mere respect might not be enough to put Romney in the White House, particularly with the Obama campaign suggesting in a relentless ad campaign that the Croesus-rich, tax-avoiding, job-exporting Republican doesn’t deserve much respect anyway. More critically, Romney continues to be deadlocked with a far more personally popular (or “likable”) president in most polls, and even some Republican analysts have concluded that as bleak as the economy still looks right now, that issue alone is not going to be enough to get Romney elected.
The answer from some GOP strategists is to go even more negative than the campaign has already been, launching an ugly culture war that will galvanize white voters. It is a move that will likely exacerbate racial tensions for years to come, based on numbers that show Romney gaining most white male voters, while Obama can win by just capturing a substantial majority of minority voters.
But clearly, Mitt will need to elicit at least some positive feeling, maybe even love, both from his base and the general electorate, to get him over the top in November, and that is Ann Romney’s main task tonight. Her challenge is to figure out a way to reintroduce a man whose biography is somewhat well known and stellar in its particulars, but which somehow does not inspire many people. Not the way, say, the tale of Ronald Reagan’s long wilderness years as a movement conservative did, or Jack Kennedy’s war record, or Barack Obama’s biracial American Dream story.
Indeed, Ann Romney has perhaps the biggest challenge at a convention since Elizabeth Dole descended from the podium in San Diego in 1996 to rouse the audience into a frenzy about “the man I love“—the equally unlovable Bob Dole.
Based on excerpts of her speech released by the Romney campaign, Ann Romney may well give up, at least somewhat, on selling the lovability factor and focus on her husband’s competence and work ethic, telling the audience that Romney should be president because he “will not fail.” According to the excerpt, she says: “This is the man who will wake up every day with the determination to solve the problems that others say can't be solved, to fix what others say is beyond repair. This is the man who will work harder than anyone so that we can work a little less hard.”
Ann’s problem is all the greater because there have been so many aspects of Mitt’s story that he, she and their family have proved reticent to talk about until now: his business dealings at Bain, his record in Massachusetts, his Mormonism. Pressed by Parade’s Lynn Sherr recently to reveal the “private Mitt Romney,” she spoke, as others have, of his “silly side. He loves to roll on the floor with our grandkids. And he’s a prankster.”
That’s not going to be enough. “I think you will see that my speech is heartfelt,” Ann Romney told reporters earlier today. It will need to be more than that. Most of these introductory speeches by candidates’ wives are mere labors of love. Ann Romney’s turn at the podium is probably a labor of necessity too.