The Republican convention moved into top gear last night as Ann Romney delivered a graceful and glowing paean to her husband, followed by a slashing attack on the Obama administration from New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who called for a “a new era of truth-telling” from politicians that would bring what he called “a second American century.
The two speeches, the climax of the first full day at the Hurricane Isaac-shortened gathering here, could not have been more different. Ms Romney was seeking to “humanise” Mitt Romney, widely criticised as wooden and out-of-touch with ordinary Americans.
Mr Christie’s keynote address by contrast was tough and uncompromising. America had to face up to its problems in order to overcome them, he said. “Real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls. We must all share in sacrifice and any leader who says otherwise is simply not telling the truth.”
But the words that may have the most impact were Ms Romney’s, delivered hours after delegates formally nominated her husband as the Republican challenger to Mr Obama in November. Wearing a simple bright red dress, smiling and direct, she connected instantly with her audience in a way her he rarely can.
“I want to talk to you about love,” she declared – “the deep abiding love for a man I met at a dance many years ago, and the profound love we have for our country, the love we share for our brother and sister Americans.” Mitt Romney is warm, loving and patient, she went on, “he makes me laugh.”
When she finished, her husband appeared on the podium and the couple embraced, before walking slowly off stage to the strains of the Temptations’ 1960s hit ‘My Girl.’ Romney strategists hope her speech, live on prime time network TV, will not only soften his image, but help eat into the big lead Barack Obama currently enjoys among women voters.
Mrs Romney, who married her husband in 1969, told of her origins, as granddaughter of a Welsh coal miner who migrated to the US when her father was 15. She spoke of the harder times she had faced as a wife, the first years living in a basement flat, and then her battles with breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. “A story book marriage?, she asked. “No, what Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.”
Confronting charges that his success was thanks to birth and family wealth, she declared that “Mitt Romney was not handed success, he built it.” The much criticised Bain Capital that he had founded, had made its partners rich, she acknowledged, but it had helped very many others succeed.
Where Ann Romney was gentle and openhearted, the burly Mr Christie was trenchant and no-nonsense, in his trademark New Jersey fashion, but no less enthusiastically received . Americans, he, “have become paralysed by our desire to be loved, by out fear of saying no, when no is what is required.”
“Tonight I say, enough. Tonight we are beginning to to do what is right to make America great again. We must live not by avoiding truths, especially the hard ones, but by facing up to them – most notably that “the maths of the federal budget don’t add up.”
He urged a “fundamental reduction” in the size of government. He accused Democrats of believing “the American people want to coddled and live the lie. But they're wrong. People have no patience for any other way. Politicians must care more about doing something, and less about being something.” It was time to end the “absentee leadership” in the Oval Office.