Mormons, Olympians set to tout Romney as leader
Tampa, Fla. • Years ago, Grant Bennett found a hornets' nest tucked under the eves of his Belmont, Mass., home so he whipped out a ladder to eradicate the pests.
The hornets, however, saw the attack coming and offered a counteroffensive, causing Bennett to tumble to the ground and fracture both heels. Laid up with the buzzing critters still making their home in his home, Bennett asked for help.
Then-LDS Stake President Mitt Romney showed up to offer sympathy and a hand.
"Seems like within a day, Mitt was over with a ladder and he took care of it," recalls Bennett's neighbor, Tina John.
As Romney takes the stage Thursday to accept the Republican nomination for president, Bennett and fellow Mormons are expected to share their personal stories of Romney's caring acts in an effort to pierce through the suit-clad Romney persona that most Americans know.
Bennett, the nephew of ex-Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, is slated to speak during the prime-time hours of the convention, along with two other families from Belmont, Mass., where Romney also served as bishop of his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward.
Two other Mormons, Ken and Priscilla Hutchins, are scheduled to open the convention Thursday with a prayer, a moment likely to help illuminate Romney's faith and background.
In becoming the first Mormon heading a major political party ticket, Romney is sprinkling moments of his religious background into his own remarks as he speaks to Americans a little more than two months out from Election Day.
Romney has faced a favorability gap with President Barack Obama, leaving the Romney team yearning to humanize their candidate, a move Republicans are hoping he can do in Thursday's big opportunity to talk to the American people.
"The way to focus on it is just being it. You don't describe your personality, you show it," says Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush. "Lots of Romney people say if you know Mitt Romney, what a warm guy he is, what a great sense of humor he has. Show some of that sense of humor. Let it come out. Don't talk about it. Just let it be you."
A lineup of speakers before Romney takes the stage could attempt to do just that, offering glimpses of Mitt the comedian and listing his unknown attributes.
Among the friends on tap tomorrow are Ted and Pat Oparowski, who sought Romney's help when their son, David, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 14. The boy, according to The New York Times, asked Romney, a lawyer, to help him draft a will. Romney later gave the eulogy at the boy's funeral, The Times reported.
It's a side of Romney that doesn't get much play on the campaign trail but that will change Thursday.
"He's always been that way, that's his demeanor," Ted Oparowski told The Times.
Some Olympians are also set to speak to Romney's leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
And then it will be Romney's turn: a chance to talk about who he is, his plan for America and why voters should replace the president they have.
Kellyanne Conway, a Washington-based Republican strategist, says Romney needs to show that he's the forward-thinking candidate with a plan and "deliver it in a happy warrior kind of way."
Romney's goal, the strategist says, is to deliver a bold, muscular and robust speech.
"He doesn't need to make headlines," Conway says. "He needs to connect with people in their living rooms and laptops."
Robert Gehrke contributed to this report