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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ann Romney Gets Ready for Her Big Night


TAMPA, Fla. â€" As he made his way to the convention that will nominate him for president of the United States, Mitt Romney sat in a window seat on his campaign plane, occasionally talking with his wife or aides but spending much of the flight alone, calm and quiet, reading or resting.

While he remained planted in the front row, never turning around, it was Ann Romney who got up repeatedly, making her way up and down the aisle, joking and chatting with advisers and delivering home-baked cookies to the journalists in the back of the plane. It may be Mitt Romney's convention, but Tuesday was to be Ann Romney's night.

Never before has she been on such a stage with so many millions watching, and she has b een preparing for her prime-time introduction for days. She is not used to speaking from a prepared text and went over it with advisers line by line. She practiced with a Teleprompter and discovered she did not much care for it. And to her surprise she found campaign strategists and even her husband weighing in on her clothing options with counsel she considered, well, questionable.

“The funniest thing of all is that Stuart Stevens, who wears his shirts inside out, is advising me on what dress I should wear tonight,” she told reporters on the plane, referring to the campaign's senior adviser. She had thought “it was going to be like my wedding dress” where her husband would not see it until the event itself, only to learn that is not how modern conventions work.

Still, she had not completely surrendered to the exigencies of the polls-and-focus-group crowd. Was she going to take Mr. Stevens's advice? “The verdict is still ou t,” she said.

Mrs. Romney has long been called a political asset for her husband, likeable and self-assured, capable of drawing a human portrait of Mr. Romney that he himself sometimes finds difficult.

The campaign considers her speech one of the centerpieces of the convention, so much so that when strategists learned the major broadcast networks would not show it on Monday night, they moved it to Tuesday night to make sure it had the largest audience possible. Then they arranged at the last minute for Mr. Romney to travel toTampa to be with her, doubling down on the importance of the moment.

The candidate's advisers are counting on her to lay out a biography of a devoted family man and successful business leader who can be trusted to run the country, a counter-narrative in effect for the picture drawn by President Obama's campaign of a rapacious capitalist with foreign bank accounts oblivious to the toll wrought by factory closings during his days in pri vate equity.

The depth of the challenge awaiting Mrs. Romney was brought home Tuesday morning even before she and her husband left their home in Belmont, Mass., to fly here. A poll released by CBS News underscored what the network called an “empathy gap,” with just 41 percent of Americans saying that Mr. Romney understands their needs compared with 54 percent who said the same of Mr. Obama.

Mrs. Romney clearly understands the campaign's needs for her speech. On the flight to Tampa, she seemed comfortable and ready for her turn in the spotlight. Playing to traditional notions of family embraced by the party's base, she said took time out from speech practice to bake hundreds of Welsh cakes from her grandmother's recipe. She brought them in a red Christmas cookie container to share on the plane.

She said several times that she was “excited” about the speech but gave little preview of it. “The speech is being reduced to a tweet,” she joked. The mos t she would reveal is that “you will see that my speech is heartfelt” and that she hopes to demonstrate “how important this election's going to be.”

She acknowledged it has been challenging to use a prepared text. “No one has ever written a speech for me,” she said, adding that she “had a lot of input.” Asked about the Teleprompter practice, she said it was “interesting. I've never spoken with a Teleprompter before. I don't like it. It's hard. We'll see how I do.”

She joked with the female reporters that she should consult with them, instead of Mr. Stevens about her dress for the evening.

Mr. Stevens, the notoriously fashion challenged strategist, later joked that he enjoyed the clothing consultations.

“I really think I've got a future in this,” he said.

“The question,” he added, “is whether she will take the advice.”