TAMPA, Florida — At 5:40 p.m. Tuesday, when the New Jersey delegation cast all 50 of their votes for Mitt Romney, it gave the former governor of Massachusetts 1,150 votes — six more than the 1,144 necessary for a majority — and he at last became officially the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. Choosing a nominee is, after all, the actual purpose of the convention, but the roll call that marked the culmination of Romney’s long campaign (which has been effectively continuous since 2006) was not a primetime event. Instead, TV viewers saw a night of speeches that culminated with back-to-back speeches by the candidate’s wife, Ann Romney, and the keynote speaker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
It was a powerful one-two punch to cap the opening night of the Republican National Convention, which saw its first day’s schedule cancelled by fears of Hurricane Isaac, the storm that turned away from Tampa and instead headed west across the Gulf of Mexico. The delayed beginning did not lessen the power of the speech by Ann Romney, who told a story of her husband’s success that contradicted the narrative the liberal media have constructed about him.
“Tonight I want to talk to you about love,” Mrs. Romney told the thousands of GOP delegates gathered inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “I want to talk to you about the deep and abiding love I have for a man I met at a dance many years ago.”
Republicans in love? Whoever heard of such a thing? The media would have us believe that Republicans are soulless automatons incapable of love. At certain points during Mrs. Romney’s speech, one could hear a few reporters in the Media Filing Center sarcastically mocking her words. The liberal media have spent months pushing the Obama campaign’s message that the GOP is the Anti-Woman Party, but liberal journalists are scarcely able to conceal their contempt for Republican women like Ann Romney, who used her speech as an opportunity to appeal directly to women without the media filter.
“It’s the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together,” Mrs. Romney said. “We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters.” Mothers “are the best of America. You are the hope of America. There would not be an America without you.”
The candidate’s wife used her own biography to push back against the media’s narrative of the Republican as overprivileged: “I am the granddaughter of a Welsh coal miner who was determined that his kids get out of the mines. My dad got his first job when he was six years old, in a little village in Wales called Nantyffyllon, cleaning bottles at the Colliers Arms. When he was 15, dad came to America. In our country, he saw hope and an opportunity to escape from poverty. He moved to a small town in the great state of Michigan…. My dad would often remind my brothers and me how fortunate we were to grow up in a place like America.”
Ann Romney also reminded listeners how she and her husband began their married life: “We were very young. Both still in college. There were many reasons to delay marriage, and you know? We just didn’t care. We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish. Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining room table was a fold down ironing board in the kitchen…. Then our first son came along. All at once I’m 22 years old, with a baby and a husband who’s going to business school and law school at the same time, and I can tell you, probably like every other girl who finds herself in a new life far from family and friends, with a new baby and a new husband, that it dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.”
After recounting her husband’s record of success, Ann Romney drew a standing ovation when she told the Republican delegates, “This man will not fail. This man will not let us down. This man will lift up America.”
When she ended her speech and was briefly joined onstage by her husband, Mrs. Romney had seemingly provided the highlight of the evening, and it seemed improbable that Chris Christie could top it — but he did.
Christie, a politician famous for speaking bluntly, began by recounting his own humble origins and praising his own mother: “She was tough as nails and didn’t suffer fools at all. The truth was she couldn’t afford to. She spoke the truth — bluntly, directly and without much varnish. And I am her son.”
A cynic might understand this maternal homage as reflecting the same polling data that has inspired Democrats to accuse Republicans of waging a “war on women.” Mothers are a crucial swing-vote segment and, with just 10 weeks remaining between now and Election Day, the Romney and Obama campaigns will fight hard for those votes.
Christie’s speech was full of fight and patriotic sentiment. “We’ve never been a country to shy away from the truth,” the New Jersey governor told the delegates. “History shows that we stand up when it counts and it’s this quality that has defined our character and our significance in the world.” Contrasting the policies of Democrats and Republicans, Christie said: “I know this simple truth and I’m not afraid to say it: our ideas are right for America and their ideas have failed America.”
Criticizing the failures of the Obama administration, Christie said: “It’s time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House. America needs Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and we need them right now.” He pounded away with rhetorical sledgehammer blows, finishing with a call to “stand up for Mitt Romney” and “stand up once again for American greatness.”
Most Republicans left the opening night of the convention in a fired-up mood. The question is whether the message conveyed by Ann Romney and Chris Christie would reach beyond downtown Tampa, leaping over the prejudices of a biased liberal media to gain a fair hearing from the voters who will decide the election now just 69 days away.