Tampa, Fla. — The first night of the hurricane-shortened Republican National Convention was jammed with speeches that aimed to define the differences between Mitt Romney and President Obama, excite the Republican base and soften the GOP nominee’s image.
It was a tall order for a single hour of prime-time television.
In an introductory speech, Ann Romney was tasked with trying to humanize her husband, a successful businessman and Olympics organizer who too often evinces a numbers cruncher, by speaking of the struggles in their marriage, including her fights with breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.
“I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage,’ “she said. “Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters on M.S. or breast cancer.”
Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia, a Republican who represents a racially, ethnically and economically diverse city on Connecticut’s Gold Coast, said the speech helped rebut Democratic depictions of Romney’s wife as the pampered mate of a rich man.
“I think some of the criticism of her never having worked, and because she actually had a horse in the Olympics, is class warfare that this administration is bent on,” Moccia said.
Leonora Levy, a delegate from Greenwich, said she “loved the way (Ann Romney) described her relationship with her husband and the respect he has for her.”
“I also loved that she said Mitt would not fail,” Levy said.
Romney made a ‘surprise’ appearance on the stage at the end of his wife’s speech and the crowd went wild, but it seemed a mistake to remain in the hall during the keynote speech that followed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
When the television cameras turned to him and his wife for reactions to Christie, the candidate was caught watching impassively. If Ann Romney tried to show a warmer, softer side of her husband, Christie did nothing to build on the theme.
Christie gave a keynote speech in which he spoke of himself and the hardscrabble childhood of his parents more than he mentioned Romney.
Keynote speeches often serve as a launching pad for higher office. Obama was a candidate for U.S. Senate candidate when he electrified the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston. Four years later, he was his party’s presidential nominee.
Christie was asked by supporters to run for president this year, but declined. He could be a candidate in 2016 if Obama wins a second term.
Without mentioning the president by name, Christie made his digs.
“We need politicians to care more about doing something and less about being something,” Christie said.
Christie also said the Democrat’s plan is to “whistle a happy tune while driving us off the fiscal cliff, as long as they are behind the wheel of power.”
Connecticut’s delegates joined in the cheers for the combative Christie, who has exchanged gibes on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and other venues with the state’s Democratic governor, Dannel P. Malloy.
“For the keynote, do you want someone who is soft, gentle and intellectual, or do you want a pit bull? And the answer is you want a pit bull,” said former Congressman Rob Simmons, who represented eastern Connecticut’s 2nd District for three terms.
Moccia, a burly former football player who tackled a protester during John McCain’s acceptance speech at athe 2008 convention in St. Paul, Minn., was a fan of the pit-bull style of political speech embodied by Christie.
“He’s direct, he’s honest, he doesn’t pull any punches and he tells the truth,” Moccia said.