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First Lady Michelle Obama speaks to delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
First Lady Michelle Obama speaks to delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

POLITICAL SPOUSES

Michelle Obama and Ann Romney: Warm-up acts for their husbands Add to ...

Campaign like crazy

Ms. Obama described herself as “mom-in-chief” and said: “My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the centre of my world.” Earlier this year, she informed the Obama campaign that she would be available to campaign and fund-raise three days a week and no more. When the race gets tighter and closer to voting day that rule may have to change: Ms. Obama is a formidable campaigner and seen as the President’s No. 1 surrogate.

- Affan Chowdhry

 

 

Ann Romney

 

Humanize the candidate

Few presidential candidates have had a harder time relating to voters than Mr. Romney. His wife is trying to fix that. In her convention speech, she spoke at length about her courtship by a “nervous” young Mr. Romney and about their challenges raising five children. In a recent interview she went further, describing her husband “curl[ing] up in bed beside me” at a particularly difficult moment when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Help sell the candidate’s achievements

By his wife’s account, Mr. Romney “doesn’t like to talk about how he has helped others” so she’s doing it for him. While not as explicit as some other GOP convention speakers, she highlighted both his acts of charity and professional achievements – all, of course, while he was being a great husband and dad.

Show triumph over adversity

Ms. Romney’s description of a working-class life in the early years of her marriage, eating tuna in a basement apartment, may have been a misstep given the common knowledge that both she and her husband come from wealthy families. But her battles with MS and breast cancer are the best defence against perceptions that the Romneys have had it easy, and helps show their toughness.

Stay above the fray (sort of)

There’s an art to delivering a highly political message in a way that seems just apolitical enough for opponents to avoid firing back. In her convention speech – about “love,” as she said – Ms. Romney spoke mostly about her husband, never mentioning the President by name. But she did manage to work in lines like the one that suggested Mr. Romney is only being attacked by Democrats because the past four years have been unsuccessful.

Fire up the base

There was some speculation following Ms. Romney’s speech that her reference to having a “real marriage” was a dog-whistle aimed at those opposed to same-sex unions. In any event, there was an unmistakable family-values undertone to her text. Republicans may also be hoping her wholesomeness strikes a favourable contrast for conservatives who hold a grudge against Ms. Obama for comments during the last campaign – about being proud of her country for the first time in her adult life – that were portrayed as anti-American.

Court the female vote

When she broke from her text last week to holler, “Love you, women!” Ms. Romney might have gotten a bit carried away with her role in trying to whittle down the Democrats’ big advantage among female voters. Much of her speech was written as a paean to the moms of the nation, who “always have to work a little harder to make everything right.”

Work the talk-show circuit

Ms. Romney won’t thrill the Ellen DeGenereses of the world the way Ms. Obama does, but a furious blitz of sit-down interviews around the convention showed that she can make pretty good television – and allowed her to drive home the same messages as in her convention speech, in a more conversational style.

Rein in problematic instincts

Ms. Romney has a somewhat aristocratic air that, if she’s not careful, can hurt efforts to make her husband more down-to-earth. Among her challenges is to look stylish without seeming to come from an upper-class world – something most fashion types seem to think she achieved with the simple red dress she wore (despite its $1,900 price tag). She has also likely been cautioned not to be too defensive when Mr. Romney is under attack, after adding to controversy around his tax filings by saying “we’ve given you people all you need to know.”

Campaign like crazy

This is a difficult one for Ms. Romney, who has said that overexerting herself on the campaign trail has already caused a flare-up of her MS. Still, she was back at it the morning after her convention speech. Expect her to keep working the fundraising.

- Adam Radwanski

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Follow us on Twitter: @affanchowdhry, @aradwanski

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