A speech by Ann Romney was a highlight of the first full day of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, but it also marked a new start in the campaign: Personalizing Mitt.
Aided by Madison Avenue and a bit of Hollywood polish, staffers for the Republican nominee talked of the opportunity the convention will give to develop a more intimate connection between Romney and voters.
The theme of the night was “We Built It,” an attack on one of President Obama’s quotes, and it was echoed by a series of speakers and even a country singer, who worked up a song over it. Delivering the keynote address, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie offered a sometimes fiery explanation point to the message.
At times casual and even bubbly, Ann Romney’s speech was largely a break in the repetitive rhetoric, as she shared stories of marrying her husband a young age, of them as a young couple who rented a basement apartment and living on meals of tuna fish and pasta, and then started a family that eventually blossomed into five sons and 18 grandchildren.
“I am still in love with that boy I met at a high school dance,” she told the convention audience.
As she projected a more personal image of Romney, she also made an appeal to women voters, directing the early part of her speech at working moments, and that she understood that “it’s the moms who have had to work an extra bit harder to make everything right.”
At one point, she was even more direct: “I love you women!” she said as she pointed her fingers and looked directly in the camera. “And I hear your voices.”
Earlier in the day, at an event sponsored by ABC News and Yahoo News at the Tampa Art Museum, four senior Romney campaign officials talked of how they would “fill in the blanks” on Romney’s life, in the words of campaign pollster Neil Newhouse.
“Governor Romney doesn’t feel comfortable talking about himself,” Newhouse said. “He’s just not built that way. You are going to see other people talking about Mitt Romney.”
Ann Romney told the convention that her husband didn’t like talking about helping other people because he considered it a “privilege,” a statement that generated cheers from the crowd.
Conventions are typically an opportunity for challengers to introduce themselves to a national audience that may not have paid much attention to the election race up to this point, but Romney’s advisers suggested that was especially the case with Romney, who has been the subject of withering ads from the Obama campaign and SuperPACs characterizing him as rich, out of touch and even uncaring of the concerns of the middle class.
Even the Romney campaign acknowledges a reserve.
Newhouse talked of the convention week being an opportunity to “fill in the blanks about Mitt’s background.”
The importance of that was underscored on the importance that the campaign gave to Ann Romney’s speech. It was originally scheduled for Monday, but when the broadcast networks refused to budge from their plans to not televise any primetime coverage that night, it was switched to Tuesday.
Eric Fehrnstrom, senior adviser to the Romney campaign, said that they are entering the fall campaign with voters “ready to fire the president, but we are making the case right now that they hire Mitt Romney.”
“Ann Romney opens up a door to dimensions of Mitt Romney that most people don’t know about,” he said.
The challenge after Labor Day will be breaking through the advertising clutter, given that the airwaves in swing states already were saturated with spots in July.
Romney is writing his convention acceptance speech along with senior adviser Stuart Stevens, a former screenwriter whose credits include “Commander in Chief,” “Northern Exposure” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
Last week, the Washington Post’s Phil Rucker profiled a team of Romney ad makers that come from Madison Avenue, with the idea that they can sell the country on a “product that lacks a dominant market share” and to create an “emotional bond with the candidate who reveals little emotion and a still-unsure body politic.”
But Ashley O’Connor, the campaign’s director of advertising, said that the enlistment of Madison Avenue talent didn’t mean that they were approaching fall ad buys like a corporate sponsor would try to sell a product.
“There’s a bit of a difference when you are selling soap,” she said. Noting the preponderance of campaign attack ads already on the airwaves, she explained, “Ivory is not being attacked by Dove.”