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Warming up the crowd

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 12:37 PM
LARGO -

On the stump to inject trust, warmth and family into an increasingly bitter presidential campaign, Ann Romney on Wednesday said her husband has been successful in business, in running the Olympics and as governor of Massachusetts — "but where he has been the most successful is at home."

Her "Women for Mitt" campaign at the Largo Community Center echoed many of the themes — and occasionally the word-for-word phrasing — of her speech on the opening night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa just two weeks ago. The intent of the rally appeared to be to soften the image of Mitt Romney, who often comes off as stoic and has had trouble connecting with voters.

"This guy is a person who has compassion. He's always been there. He's the kind of guy you can count on," Ann Romney said.

She talked about her husband staying at the bedside of a friend's terminally ill son, loading their car's trunk with firewood for a stranger whose heat had been cut off, and the effect of those actions on the Romneys' five sons.

"What did my boys learn from all that? They turned into the most extraordinary young men. And how do we teach? Do we teach by saying, 'Go and do,' or do we go and do?"

She repeated her "storybook marriage" convention speech anecdote about a union rocked by her diagnoses of multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.

"Who did I have standing next to me when I was in my darkest hour?" she said. "I was feeling absolutely lost, and Mitt was there saying, 'You know what, Ann, I don't care how tough it gets, we're doing this together. I'm by your side, and we're going to be OK."

Romney has been holding "Women for Mitt" rallies in the campaign's battleground regions — she was in Virginia and Ohio last week — and an aide said more will be scheduled.

Her stated goal on Wednesday was to roust female voters "to convince someone who voted for Barack Obama last time to say it's time for a new coach," but the Romney campaign is not ignorant of the numbers.

Obama held a 49 percent to 46 percent lead over Romney in Florida in a Quinnipiac poll Aug. 23, but women favored Obama by 53 percent to 41 percent.

"It's very important for Ann Romney to connect with conservative women in Florida because they are a group that did not turn out in high numbers for (John) McCain in 2008," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor from the University of South Florida. "In the past, when Republicans have done well in statewide elections in Florida, it's because the women's vote has been split." Conversely, a one-sided women's vote typically favors the Democratic candidate.

"Clearly, Ann Romney is here to encourage turnout among conservative women and try to even up the women's vote in Florida," MacManus said.

Ann Romney succeeded in reaching Ethel Lehmann, of Largo, who scored a handshake and greeting with the candidate's wife a few months after shaking hands with Mitt Romney at a Dunedin appearance.

"It was the family," Lehmann said. "She had five children. I had five children. I know she worked hard to bring them up, just like I did."

Ray Gussler, of Seminole, one of the few men in the crowd of about 450, called the Romneys "wonderful, good people" who aren't too big to reach down and help those in need.

"They care, and they're sincere, and you can just sense it," he said.

Also speaking at the rally were Pinellas County Commissioner Nancy Bostock, who is seeking re-election; Kathleen Peters, mayor of South Pasadena and a candidate for state House District 69; and Attorney General Pam Bondi, a rising star in the Republican party.

Both Bondi and Romney paid tribute to the four Americans killed Tuesday in the embassy attack in Libya, but the issue was not raised after that.

The Romney and Obama campaigns have been trading words over politicizing the event, with Mitt Romney arguing the incident suggests the president isn't leading on foreign policy.


jstockfisch@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7834

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