NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Mitt Romney is playing the ‘family man’ card today, in a veiled attempt to exploit rival Newt Gingrich’s biggest weakness on the eve of South Carolina’s all-important Republican primary.Marital bliss was clearly the theme at a rally here in North Charleston this afternoon, where Mitt Romney and his wife Ann took the stage with two other happily married gubernatorial couples.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley kicked off the lovefest in her intro speech, introducing her husband Michael, an officer in the Army National Guard, as the “coolest First Man Ever,” and noting how proud she is of his military service.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of his service,” she said. “I love watching him walk out that door in his military uniform.”
When Romney took the stage, he wasted no time before jumping how he met and courted his high-school sweetheart, now wife, Ann Romney — a story he has gotten into the habit of telling at campaign stops ever since Gingrich’s second wife’s salacious interview with ABC News yesterday. Mrs. Romney fwith warm remarks about her husband’s devotion to her and their five sons, and about her confidence that he can “save America.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell — a new addition to the Romney crew — also took the stage, praising Ann Romney as the candidate’s “greatest asset” and introducing his own wife of more than 30 years.
McDonnell went on to put in his plug for Romney, but he never strayed far from the family theme:
“Character counts and values matter,” McDonnell told the crowd of supporters. “Mitt Romney would run the finances of this country like it was his own family’s money.”
For a grand finale, the three couples led the audience in an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday” and presented a cake to Gov. Haley to celebrate her 40th birthday.
“All I want for my birthday is President Mitt Romney,” Haley teased.
Although no one mentioned Gingrich or his adulterous past, the implications were clear: Romney is an even-keeled, loyal family man who, unlike Gingrich, has no history of betrayal. And he will take care of America like he has taken care of his wife and children.
It may be too late to influence South Carolina voters, it is a useful contrast that could help Romney should the race come down to him and Newt. Gingrich’s marital misdeeds aren’t going to go away, so if Romney can nail down the family man message — and tie it in to his businessman-conservative bonafides — he might be able to make an impact on other voters down the line.