Ann Romney's big night

Luiza Ch. Savage explains why tonight's speech could be the most important of the Republican convention

Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, stands for a sound check at the Republican convention in Tampa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo))

It’s not often a speech by a political spouse can make a real difference in a presidential race. But Ann Romney has a genuine chance to help her husband tonight. If she pulls it off, her speech has the potential be the most important of Republican National Convention. Of all the hundreds of speakers taking the stage in Tampa this week, Ann is the best positioned to dispel Mitt’s robotic image, the cold-hearted capitalist label that the Obama campaign has so effectively pinned on him, and the pounding his party has taken recently with female voters (who prefer Obama over Romney by 50 to 42 per cent according to a recent Gallup poll.)

Mitt Romney seems painfully uncomfortable talking about himself, his faith and his career. Ann has a chance to do it for him. She has the advantage of coming across as warmer than Cindy McCain and Callista Gingrich, with none of their no-platinum-hair-out-of-place stiffness. Like Michelle Obaman did in 2008, she has the ability to recast her husband and help audiences see him through her eyes: as a Dad to six five boys and a caring husband who supported her struggle through breast cancer and ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis. (Though, she needn’t go as far as Mrs. Obama did with TMI descriptions of her husband as “snore-y and stinky” in the morning. )

Like the Obamas’ marriage, the Romney union seems genuine and solid. The Ann-Mitt story is a fascinating one. He proposed to her when she was 16 and still in high school. The daughter of a former mayor and industrialist, who was opposed to organized religion. Yet shortly after Ann accepted Mitt’s proposal, her future-father-in law,  George, (former governor of Michigan and himself a one-time presidential contender) personally guided and oversaw her conversion from Protestantism to the Mormon faith, while Mitt was away on a Mormon mission to France. Four years after the proposal, they were married.

Biographer Michael Kranish, author of The Real Romney, told me earlier this year in an interview:

Mitt began courting Ann when they were in high school in Michigan. She was 15 and he was 18. When he went to Stanford, he’d often sneak back to visit Ann. His father became concerned that he was missing his studies and he cut off his allowance—but Mitt was so determined to see Ann that he sold off some of his clothing to pay for a plane ticket. Ann’s role has been extraordinarily important. She’s the one who would tell him that if he didn’t do this he’d regret it—the Mormon mission to France, the runs for Senate, governor and president.

Ann Romney has said her speech tonight will be “heartfelt.” A lot will be riding on whether it is effective.

(The Republican convention in Tampa is live-streaming here.)