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Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 28, 2012.Mike Segar/Reuters

The order was a tall one for Ann Romney as she attempted the feat an army of campaign strategists and hundreds of millions of advertising dollars have so far been unable to accomplish: raising her husband's languishing likeability ratings.

The wife of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor formally chosen as the Republican presidential nominee on Tuesday, emphasized their nearly 50-year romance and her husband's devotion to his family, faith and country in a prime-time address at the party's convention.

"No one will work harder. No one will care more. No one will move heaven and earth like Mitt Romney to make this country a better place to live," said Ms. Romney, 63, who appeared at ease in her first major nationally televised speech.

Ms. Romney's address was the high point on the first night of the party's truncated convention, which shared a split screen with Hurricane Isaac on most networks as the storm hit the Louisiana coast late Tuesday.

Polls show voters hold a largely unfavourable opinion of Mr. Romney, a former private equity executive portrayed as clinical and out-of-touch by President Barack Obama's campaign. Ms. Romney's speech was aimed at changing that, especially among female voters. Mr. Romney trails Mr. Obama by double digits among women.

While both she and her husband grew up in wealthy families, Ms. Romney spoke of the hardships they endured as young newlyweds living in a basement apartment, eating "a lot of tuna fish and pasta," as her husband completed his business degree.

"I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a storybook marriage. 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 called [multiple sclerosis] or breast cancer," offered Ms. Romney, who has battled both diseases. "A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage."

Ms. Romney was preceded by a long lineup of speakers that included the first female governor of Indian descent and a black Mormon running for Congress, as the party sought to underscore its diversity.

Attacking Mr. Obama and his record, however, emerged as the dominant theme of the night.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the party's leading flag-bearer in the quest to shrink government and take on public-sector unions, delivered the keynote address. He accused Democrats of cowardice in facing up to the country's $16-trillion (U.S.) debt burden.

Democrats "believe that the American people don't want to hear the truth about the extent of our fiscal difficulties and need to be coddled by big government," he said. "They believe the American people are content to live the lie with them."

On the controversial topic of Medicare, which Republicans argue must change if the cost of government is to be brought down to a sustainable level, Mr. Christie said Democrats preferred to "whistle a happy tune while driving us off the fiscal cliff."

"Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good paying private-sector jobs again in America," Mr. Christie insisted. "It's time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House."

One by one, speakers emphasized self-reliance and free enterprise, expressing Republican faith in the market and accusing Mr. Obama of making it harder for small businesses to thrive and create jobs.

"He actually attacks success," Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus told the convention. "That makes me think Barack Obama has a problem with the American Dream."

New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, the wife of an Iraq War veteran who started a snowplowing business, added: "President Obama has never even run a lemonade stand. And it shows."

Earlier in the day, Republicans aired their dirty laundry on the convention floor, as delegates booed party leaders over rule changes that will make it harder for insurgent candidates like Ron Paul and Rick Santorum to break through in the future.

The dissent did not prevent Mitt Romney from being formally nominated as the Republican presidential candidate, in a roll call vote held late Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Romney got 2,061 delegate votes compared to fewer than 200 for Mr. Paul.

Still, party officials got booed when they called for the adoption of rules that would make it harder to challenge Mr. Romney for the 2016 nomination if he becomes president.

In a voice vote, the nays seemed at least as loud as the ayes. But House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner nevertheless declared the rules adopted.

The changes were prompted by Mr. Paul's success in racking up the largest number of delegates in five states, despite failing to win the most votes in those states. The libertarian congressman finished third in the Iowa caucuses, but emerged with the most delegates after his followers stacked the state convention where delegates were chosen.

Mr. Paul's delegates heckled the proceedings for several minutes as the rules were being tabled. They were joined by scores of other delegates who, despite supporting Mr. Romney, seemed just as unhappy with the way the changes were pushed through.