TAMPA, Fla. - Ann Romney sought to humanize her husband in her introductory remarks tonight at the Republican National Convention, an opening program filled with feminine overtones.
"I love you, women! And I hear your voices," called Ann Romney, surrounded by an oversized digital backdrop of family photos. "It's the moms of this nation - single, married, widowed - who really hold this country together. We're the mothers, we're the wives, we're the grandmothers, we're the big sisters, we're the little sisters, we're the daughters."
After her remarks, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney appeared briefly on stage, kissed his wife and waved to the cheering thousands while the Temptations' "My Girl" played over the arena sound system.
This was ladies night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where Republicans displayed their top female ambassadors on the first formal night of convention speeches. Ann Romney capped off a line-up filled with Republican women, including a couple of Members of Congress, governors and businesswomen.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addressed the thousands of delegates in the arena and millions more watching on television later in the evening. But even Christie put his late mother front and center in his remarks, describing her frank style and declaring, "I am her son."
Just hours after Republicans nominated her husband to the top of the ticket, Ann Romney painted a realist and sentimental view of her marriage to her high school sweetheart.
"Tonight I want to talk to you about love," she told the crowd. "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 MS or Breast Cancer."
"A storybook marriage? No, not at all," she continued. "What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage."
"Ann is the perfect combination of strength and grace," praised South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in her introductory remarks. "She's an amazing inspiration for me and so many women around the country."
Throughout the evening's program, Republicans emphasized their designated theme, "We Built It." Those three words served as a direct response to the president's recent comments in Virginia - words that Republicans played repeatedly on tape throughout the evening. A country music artist crooned his song, "I Built It," at the top of the program.
Earlier in the evening, Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, a Congressional candidate in Utah, took the stage. Following a slick introductory video, Love declared "Obama's version of America" as "pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender and social status."
Other women waxed poetic on Romney throughout the evening: Haley, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. Many painted vignettes of small-business men and women from their home states. Haley pointed to her own family, her immigrant parents, who built their multimillion-dollar business from their family living room.
"So, President Obama, with all due respect, don't tell me that my parents didn't build their business," Haley said.
Ayotte detailed her husband's journey to start a small business, a landscaping and snowplowing company.
"And when I say he - I mean we - because I spent many a sleepless night shoveling snow," Ayotte said. "And I'm proud of the fact that in addition to being a United States Senator - I'm also pretty good with a snow plow!"
Nationally known GOP governors followed in the program, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
"We need a president who will say to a small-business woman: Congratulations, we applaud your success, you did make that happen, you did build that in America!" McDonnell said, referencing a woman who runs a Chantilly, Va., design firm.
Even Speaker John Boehner used the nightly theme to describe his family's business - a bar in southwestern Ohio.
"That was our business - and we did build that," he said in his brief remarks.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) also took the stage - Romney's only former opponent with a speaking slot. Santorum's remarks barely mentioned the Republican who defeated him. Instead, the former Senator elaborated on the conservative social issues that helped him win delegates through the primary process.
"In November we have a chance to vote for life and liberty, not dependency," Santorum said. "A vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will put our country back in the hands of leaders who understand what America can and, for the sake of our children, must be to keep the dream alive."
Some of the most partisan comments came from former Rep. Artur Davis, a former Alabama Democrat who recently switched parties and moved to Virginia.
"Some of you may know, the last time I spoke at a convention, it turned out I was in the wrong place," Davis said. "So, Tampa, my fellow Republicans, thank you for welcoming me where I belong."