Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 07/06/2012

What Ann Romney can learn from Michelle Obama

Everyone agrees. Ann Romney is a tremendous campaign asset for Mitt Romney.

Nicknamed “the Mitt stabilizer” because of her calming influence, the mother of five grown sons comes across as warm, real and approachable, while her husband comes across as none of the above. Add to that a biography that includes surviving breast cancer and battling multiple sclerosis and the former first lady of Massachusetts is poised to connect in a big way.

But if Michelle Obama’s tenure is any guide — and for Ann Romney it should be — connecting doesn’t just happen. It takes effort, strategy and a smart staff to come across as a natural and to abide by the most important rule: First, Do No Harm. Here are a few strategies from Michelle Obama’s well-worn first lady playbook that Ann Romney should borrow. Right now.

Stay away from politics — No, it’s not fair. Smart, dynamic and clearly political women shouldn’t have to shelve their inner wonk, put on an apron and pretend that baking cookies is their favorite past time (not that there is anything wrong with that).

But such is political life for the political wife and Michelle Obama has mastered the game. Publicly, she has rarely gotten into the horse race, day-to-day nitty-gritty of political strategy. Nor has she harped on her husband’s opponents. Instead she has talked about her husband’s policies and what they mean for people. And more importantly, she has talked about her husband as a person.

Ann Romney missed a big opportunity in the CBS interview to do the same thing when she was asked about her husband’s compassion. She talked political strategy, (Obama wants to “kill this guy”) when she needed to talk about her husband. She insisted that the critics who say her husband is out of touch and wooden have it all wrong. But rather than showing how critics have misjudged Mitt Romney by telling this-is-the-man-I-know stories, Ann Romney got tripped up in the political weeds. Swing and a miss.

Don’t wait until August — Both Mitt and Ann seem to have a “wait and see, more is coming” approach to their race for the White House. This stands in contrast to the Obamas’ approach which has been very much a “here, there, everywhere” approach to being in the public eye. They have embedded themselves in pop culture like no other first couple — yes, that was Michelle Obama jumping rope on Live With Kelly and President Obama slowjamming the news on Jimmy Fallon.

Ann Romney will have her big debut on stage at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August where she is likely to give a major speech on Mitt the man and make the case for why he should be president. But why wait until then? There’s no time like right now for flooding the zone with all things Ann and Mitt. (Though the jet ski is probably better left parked in the garage. Or wherever it is people store jet skis).

Acknowledge the prevailing narrative and work against it — One of Michelle Obama’s standby stories about her husband was how she thought he was odd when they first met: “I probably did what a lot of people do when they hear about Barack Obama. First I thought what kind of name is Barack Obama,” she often said.

In this way, Michelle Obama put herself in voters’ shoes and claimed their mind-set as her own, acknowledging that there were gaps that needed to be filled in. But then she took voters on a journey from seeing Barack Obama as the guy with the funny name, to Barack Obama the ordinary guy, not too keen on housework, but good to his family and his community. Her conversion narrative became voters’ conversion narrative.

There is something about Mitt Romney that seems “always already” — as if he sprung fully formed. Ann Romney knows better and she should start talking about Mitt from way back when. She doesn’t quite seem to believe that people see her husband as stiff and wooden (No, he’s really wild and crazy, she insists over and over again.) Well, believe it. And fix it.

Buy a dress at Banana Republic and wear it on The View — Clothes are the great communicators. Michelle Obama knew this when she chose off the rack for her appearances on daytime TV and on Leno, sending women across the country to J. Crew and other outlets to get her look. Ann Romney take heed. Nothing says normal like wearing an outfit that most women can afford. Yes, Ann Romney is incredibly wealthy. Everyone knows this. She can toss on a $990 bird print shirt just as Michelle Obama can toss on a $500 pair of sneakers. But that doesn’t mean she should. In many ways, Michelle Obama’s climb to the top of the polls and to her status as “the first lady next door” began on daytime TV where she came across as just one of the gals. Ann Romney should hit the talk show circuit, armed with self-deprecation, funny stories about her husband, and a rack of everyday clothes.

By  |  08:00 AM ET, 07/06/2012

 
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