With an appeal from his wife, Ann, for voters to give him a chance and an indictment of Democrats from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney began a broader appeal to women and working class voters.
Hours after a roll-call of states confirming that Romney won the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination, Ann Romney urged voters to “get to know” her husband and told them, “You can trust Mitt.”
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“You may not agree with Mitt’s positions on issues or his politics,” Ann Romney said in a nationally broadcast speech on the first full day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. “But let me say this to every American who is thinking about who should be our next president: No one will work harder, no one will care more, and no one will move heaven and earth like Mitt Romney to make this country a better place to live.”
She was followed on the convention floor by Christie, who has earned the loyalty of anti-tax Tea Party devotees by feuding with public sector unions and imposing spending cuts in his state. He delivered a sharply-worded critique of President Barack Obama’s party and his policies that was intended to appeal to voters in non-professional occupations without college degrees. Christie never said Obama’s name.
“It’s time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders back to the White House,” Christie said. Obama and the Democrats have “coddled” Americans with “big government” and failed to tell them the truth about the challenges facing the nation and the actions needed to address them, he said.
“You see, Mr. President: Real leaders don’t follow polls; real leaders change polls. That’s what we need to do now,” Christie said, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd.
As Hurricane Isaac pounded New Orleans, the convention competed for the national audience. The remarks by Ann Romney and Christie were designed to address the twin challenges Romney faces as he introduces himself to a broader group of voters only now tuning in to the presidential race. He must stoke enthusiasm within a party that was slow to warm up to him during a drawn- out Republican primary.
At the same time, Romney is trying to improve his standing with key groups including independent voters, disaffected Democrats and women by showing a softer and more human side -- an effort personified last night by his wife of 43 years.
Doing so could prove critical to persuading them that the multimillionaire former private equity executive and ex- Massachusetts governor is a likeable and trustworthy alternative to Obama.
Polls show Romney can use the help burnishing his image. A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted Aug. 22-25 showed 27 percent of registered voters found him to be the more friendly or likeable of the two presidential candidates, less than half the 61 percent who named Obama.
“At every turn in his life, this man I met at a high school dance has helped lift up others,” Ann Romney said.
“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.”
Romney, who will accept the nomination on Thursday night, strode on stage after his wife’s speech to greet her with a kiss -- to the strains of the 1965 Temptations hit song “My Girl.”
Ann Romney also used her speech to try to puncture a widely held view that her husband and family have a perfect life without challenge or adversity, alluding to her 14-year battle with multiple sclerosis and 2008 breast cancer diagnosis.
“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.”
Republicans tapped Christie, who’d been urged to enter the primary contest, to deliver the keynote address because of his widespread appeal in a state (STONJ1:US) with a Democratic voting majority.
“We are not afraid,” Christie said. “We are taking our country back, because we are the great grandchildren of men and women who broke their backs in the name of American ingenuity; the grandchildren of the ‘Greatest Generation’; the sons and daughters of immigrants; the brothers and sisters of everyday heroes; the neighbors of entrepreneurs and firefighters, teachers and farmers, veterans and factory workers and everyone in-between who shows up not just on the big days or the good days, but on the bad days and on the hard days.”
Christie called for a new era of “truth-telling” and also made a subtle appeal to women as he criticized the health-care overhaul Obama pushed to enactment in 2010, which he referred to as “the debacle of putting the world’s greatest health-care system in the hands of federal bureaucrats, and putting those bureaucrats between an American citizen and her doctor.”
“Our problems are big, and the solutions will not be painless,” he added. “We all must share in the sacrifice, and any leader that tells us differently is simply not telling the truth.”
Romney’s campaign shaped the night around a gaffe by Obama, a comment in Roanoke, Virginia, on July 13, in which he said: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that; somebody else made that happen.” That quote echoed throughout the red-, white- and blue-adorned convention hall several times throughout the evening during video testimonials to American small business owners.
During Obama’s speech last month, he said if Americans were successful, it was in part because “somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
As Romney and his campaign pressed to capitalize on discontent about the economy, they showed a video featuring Democrats who supported the president in 2008 and now say they’re planning to vote for Romney.
“We didn’t get hope and change; we got deficit and unemployment,” one man says in the video. A woman holding an Obama ‘08 sign flips it over to reveal a Romney placard and says, “I’m not supporting Barack Obama this time, because, you know, I just don’t see things getting better.”
They also gave a speaking role to former Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama, a Democrat who supported Obama in 2008 who switched parties and now supports Romney.
“There are Americans who voted for the president, but who are searching right now, because they know that their votes didn’t build the country they wanted,” Davis said.
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