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Ann Romney in spotlight on first night of GOP convention; aims to humanize Mitt

Ann Romney takes centre stage on Tuesday on the opening night of the Republican National Convention to deliver a speech aimed at convincing not just the American public but some wary party delegates that her husband is honest, caring and relates to average citizens.

Mitt Romney's campaign advisers have long considered his personable, 63-year-old wife their not-so-secret weapon as he's spent the better part of eight years running for president. Even their sons refer to her as "the great Mitt stabilizer."

By all accounts, the Republican presidential hopeful is devoted to his wife, praising her once again on Monday in Wolfeboro, N.H., where the Romneys have a summer home.

"I really like Ann's speech," he said as the couple prepared to head off to Tampa, Fla., for what is essentially his coronation as the Republican presidential nominee.

"She's going to do terrific."

Romney, indeed, is expected to do what she does best on Tuesday night — humanize Mitt Romney by portraying him to an American prime-time audience as a loving, loyal husband, father of five and grandfather to 18.

That type of messaging is particularly important for an emotionally remote politician like Romney, said historian and first lady expert Catherine Allgor.

"First ladies or first-lady wannabes can make a difference, and Ann Romney can make an especially huge difference for him because of how negatively he's being perceived right now," Allgor, of the University of California, Riverside, said in an interview Monday.

"The critique against him is this notion that he's a money guy who slashes jobs and fires people and ruins businesses all to make money, but she can go a long way to portraying him as a warm, loving person, someone who cares deeply for women, children and families."

Romney has already warmed up for the task in a round of weekend interviews leading up to the convention, recalling how her husband comforted her in 1998 after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"Even when I was as sick as that, he would curl up in the bed with me," she said, wiping a tear away as she spoke to CNN.

"So, you just knew that that was where he was. It was like he was going to do anything he could do just to say 'I'm here. You're OK. Just stay right there, and we'll be OK.'"

Rae Chornenky, president of the National Federation of Republican Women, says she hopes Romney's speech focuses on her own personal journey with her husband.

"She's a very big asset to Gov. Romney, no question, but her own story and what they both had to go through is also very inspirational and motivational," Chornenky said from Tampa on Monday.

"It's good for the party to hear those stories about their struggles; it's an inspiration to all of us — men, women and young people."

Romney insisted over the weekend that in addition to his tender side, her husband is also "fun-loving, warm (and) spontaneous" when out of the public eye.

The supposedly vivacious Mitt Romney, who's often painfully awkward and ill-at-ease while mingling with working-class Americans on the campaign trail, has been decidedly elusive during a fractious primary season and an even nastier presidential race.

Mitt Romney himself recently conceded that the Obama campaign has succeeded in eroding his likeability numbers in public opinion polls by painting him as an out-of-touch multi-millionaire. Team Obama has been incessant in their attacks on Mitt Romney's tenure at the helm of equity firm Bain Capital, his refusal to release multiple years of his tax returns and tax proposals they say favour the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

But Obama's rival for the White House was unapologetic in a separate interview with

"I am who I am," he said.

"Remember that Popeye line: 'I am what I am and that's all what I am.' I know there are some people who do a very good job acting and pretend they're something they're not. You get what you see. I am who I am."

It hasn't just been the candidate under siege since launching his second run for president. Ann Romney, too, has found herself in hot water on several fronts, most notably for her love of dressage — an equestrian discipline favoured by the well-heeled — and remarks she's made about her husband's tax returns and the family's wealth.

In March, she was ridiculed for insisting she didn't think of herself as wealthy. Her husband is worth an estimated US$200 million.

"We can be poor in spirit. I don't even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing. It can be here today and gone tomorrow," she said.

Two weeks ago, she slammed the door on demands that her husband release more of his tax returns in remarks that were criticized as imperious.

"We have been very transparent to what's legally required of us," she said. "There's going to be no more tax releases given."

In her weekend interviews, however, Romney assured Americans she was one of them, insisting in a chat with Fox News that she shops at Costco.

"We both love Costco," she said.

Her husband piped in: "She also got me one of these three-packs of shirts the other day from Costco. And they're very nice shirts."

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