TAMPA – Ann Romney's primetime convention speech is so important to her husband's campaign that they made sure to schedule it on a day that television networks would carry it. When she takes the convention stage on Tuesday night, just before the keynote speaker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, she will be tasked with doing what her Republican presidential hopeful husband has failed to do so far – let America get to know who he is and why she loves him.
"Her job is to tell us about Mitt Romney through her eyes, the very unique perspective as a spouse, as a partner in life, paint a picture for us of their life together, of their early life, humanize him," says Anita McBride of American University, the former chief of staff to Laura Bush and a veteran of three GOP White House administrations.
Ann Romney has proven herself as a top surrogate for the campaign and a critical part of their efforts to improve their standing with women voters, McBride says. Republicans traditionally trail Democrats with women voters, but while the Romney campaign has tried to appeal to them on pocketbook issues, remarks by Todd Akin, a GOP Senate candidate in Missouri, have thrust cultural concerns regarding rape and abortion back into the spotlight.
Romney herself was the subject of a cultural debate earlier this year when a Democratic pundit declared she couldn't understand the plight of working Americans because she "had never worked a day in her life."
McBride says that Romney has said that was a critical junction for her.
"She said it allowed her to immediately crystallize her thoughts about the right of women to choose how they want to spend their life," McBride says.
Romney's response to the critique was that she had chosen to stay at home and raise her five boys, and that it was hard work. Romney, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and been very active in charitable organizations, was able to use the moment to prove her political savvy.
"You got the sense she could think on her feet, she's confident in who she is, she's not going to apologize for who she is," says McBride. "She really is someone that has been a lot of great opportunities in life, a lot of great challenges and she's still an optimistic, forward looking person. I think that's inspirational and something I hope women can connect with because I know we've got work to do there."
Romney will likely use her time at the pulpit to share some of the stories she's collected from campaigning across the country and tie them together with her husband's vision for the future.
"She is meeting people in communities and big events, but in every corner of our country she has been and she's talking to people, she's talking to women," McBride says. "She's got a bird's eye view and it's important for her to tell us what she's hearing and what women are telling her."
Women, like everyone in the country, have consistently told pollsters they are worried about the economy and the opportunities that will be available for their children. McBride says Romney can project those stories and connect with not just the delegates in the convention hall, but with the millions of women expected to watch her speech across the country.
And while Romney has wowed audiences on a smaller scale since the primary season, this will by far be her highest profile address. McBride says she's up for the challenge.
"No one ever completely prepares you for being a political spouse," she says. "But there's a side to her that people just don't know, that strength and resiliency, the fact that we know she has gone through health challenges is an equalizer for everyone, no matter your demographic. This is an opportunity for her to give the wide breadth of experiences that she has had as a woman in America."
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.