Aside from Mitt Romney himself, no one can make a more personal and heartfelt case for his candidacy than the mother of his five sons, a breast-cancer survivor currently battling multiple sclerosis. Who better to reassure women that Romney is on their side than wife Ann, his attractive, personable mate of 43 years? She’ll address the delegates and a prime-time TV audience on Tuesday.
“We’re bookending the convention by beginning with Ann and ending with Mitt. In between, we tell the Romney story,” said Russ Schriefer, a top Romney strategist overseeing the convention planning in Tampa. “People will learn who he is as a person, his character, and that goes to his family and
Filling those personal gaps could be crucial for Romney, despite a sluggish economy that continues to drag down his opponent. The general election looks like a tight race, but voters have more positive personal views of President Obama than of Romney. When voters are asked who is more likable, who connects with the middle class, and who understands their problems, Obama consistently comes out ahead.
The Obama campaign has also assailed Romney on women’s issues as it fights to preserve a gender gap that some polls peg in the double digits. In countering that line of attack, Ann Romney may be her husband’s best weapon. Though she can’t do it alone—the campaign is also featuring other prominent GOP women including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire—Ann Romney is likely to help her husband the most among those women with whom he has already made inroads, including white, married, and blue-collar voters, said Republican pollster Ed Goeas.
“The respect and love she shows for Mitt after all these years of marriage is undeniable, and it helps humanize him and make him a stronger person in the eyes of the electorate,” said Goeas, who served as program director of the 2008 convention.
Mitt Romney frequently appears choreographed on the campaign trail, while his wife is a natural. In an ABC News/Washington Post survey in April, she scored 5 percentage points higher than her husband in favorability and 17 points lower in unfavorability. (First lady Michelle Obama was also more popular than her husband in the survey.) Ann Romney has fielded questions at least twice about the family’s tax returns in televised interviews, signaling that the campaign believes she can handle sensitive issues.
Romney makes her husband a better candidate, staffers say, by helping him relax and stay focused. Women in the crowd swoon when the buttoned-down corporate executive lovingly introduces his “sweetheart” at campaign events. “It’s a great love story,” Schriefer said. “These two people have been married more than 40 years, and they are as much in love as they were at 16.”
Imagine those heartstring-pulling photographs of the handsome young couple and their growing brood projected onto the massive, high-resolution screens behind the convention stage. All of Romney’s sons will have a role at the convention, along with their spouses and children—“at least the ones who can stay up late,” Schriefer said.
The tableau will allow voters to picture a White House overflowing with family warmth, complete with grandchildren frolicking on the lawn.
“If the Romney campaign can come out of this convention owning the word ‘family,’ they will have done a lot to make their candidate more empathetic and more likely to win the election,” Castellanos said.