JUST hours after New Jersey’s 50 delegates officially made her husband the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Ann Romney took to the stage in Tampa to give a stoic defence of her husband’s business career, his values, and most of all, his credentials to be the next President. Her remarks were, initially at least, so well received that some joked the Republicans may have picked the wrong spouse.
Ann Romney has been widely touted as the candidate’s secret weapon, an individual with strong approval ratings, despite the fact a relatively small percentage of the population has even heard her speak.
In one simple sentence she conveyed why, amid all the political attacks on his character, voters seldom hear about who her husband really is: “Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he’s helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point.” She highlighted his challenges and accomplishments, before assuring the crowd “he will not fail”. The candidate and the audience were visibly moved by her remarks. Republicans and certain viewers at home will be too.
Some might say Ann Romney’s speech was the most critical of the convention; a Republican offensive in what is being touted as the defining battle of the election: the gender gap. The President’s lead among female voters, primarily single women, is approximately 10 per cent. Distractions over social issues have prevented Republicans from talking about the economy, the issue women overwhelmingly want to discuss. Romney does, however, enjoy a robust lead with male voters, independents, and is currently poised to exceed George W. Bush’s 2004 margin with married women. If Ann Romney’s speech resonates with the wider electorate, the Republican nominee will create a substantial headache for the President.
If the presence of Paul Ryan makes it easier for Romney to speak to conservatives, his wife’s remarks may have made it easier for him to open up and talk about his perceived liabilities, namely his business career in private equity. Romney has long struggled with how best to sell his achievements without appearing out of touch. But rather than painting the image of a heartless executive, Ann Romney made Bain Capital sound like a successful family start-up that with her husband at the helm, had a knack for giving life to businesses and jobs. The country could do with a chief executive like that.
Voters are growing increasingly anxious that neither candidate possesses the ability to return the country to prosperity. Romney has one uninterrupted opportunity to convince them why this is only a half truth.
Romney is certainly not the first presidential candidate who struggles to connect with voters, but he is certainly one of a handful to have an advocate as charming, engaging and strong as his wife. On Tuesday night, voters heard about a new candidate: hard to get to know, but when you do, you’ll actually like him. You might even vote for him.
You just don’t know it yet.
Ewan Watt is a Washington, DC-based consultant. You can follow him on Twitter @ewancwatt