ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Mitt Romney got personal tonight in Florida, shifting the attention away from the improving unemployment rates and instead opting to share story after story about people he’s met over the years.
There was the woman from Oklahoma whose husband was killed in Afghanistan, the 14-year-old Massachusetts boy who asked him to write his will before he passed away from cancer and a quadriplegic who Romney said spoke with him the day before his death.
What there wasn’t was any mention of the better-than-expected jobs report, which found that the nation’s unemployment rate had decreased to 7.8 percent last month, the first time it’s been under 8 percent in four years.
For Romney, who had been riding a wave of momentum after his strong debate performance earlier this week, tonight served as an opportunity to continue to tackle one of the biggest criticisms against him: that he doesn’t connect enough with the average American.
“I’ve seen America,” Romney said. “I’ve seen the greatness of the human spirit in my fellow Americans. It’s what gives me confidence in our future, knowing we can rise to the occasion time and again. I’ve seen it throughout my life.”
“I got to meet Billy Hulse and Bill began a business, was very successful and then was involved in an accident and became quadriplegic,” Romney said. “And I just saw him a couple of weeks ago – I think three weeks ago in Atlanta, he came to an event. And, it’s not easy for Billy to get around [as a] quadriplegic. But his wife was there and he can’t move, of course, his arms and his legs, and he can barely speak. And they brought him forward, a big crowd around him.
“I reached down and I put my hand on Billy’s shoulder and I whispered into his ear, and I said, ‘Billy, God bless you, I love ya.’ And he whispered right back to me – and I couldn’t quite hear what he said,” said Romney. “He tried to speak loud enough for me to hear. He died the next day.”
Next was the story of David Oparowski, the 14-year-old for whom Romney helped write a will before he died of leukemia. Oparowski’s story was first told at the Republican National Convention by his mother. Tonight, Romney told it himself for the first time.
“I went to David’s bedside and got a piece of legal paper, made it look very official,” said Romney, of the day Oparowski summoned him to his bedside. “And then David proceeded to tell me what he wanted to give his friends. Talked about his fishing rod, and who would get that. He talked about his skateboard, who’d get that. And his rifle, that went to his brother. I’ve seen the character of a young man like David, who wasn’t emotional or crying. He had his eyes wide open. There’s a saying: clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose. David couldn’t lose. I loved that young man.”
The last story Romney told was about Jane Horton, a woman from Oklahoma the candidate met at the Republican convention. Horton’s husband was killed in Afghanistan days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and his funeral was protested by members of the Westboro Baptist Church.
“They came to the funeral of her husband, and she was asked, ‘What do you think of that?’ And this is the quote. She said this: ‘Chris died for them to be able to protest,’” Romney said.
“This is quite a nation we live in,” said Romney. “There are some extraordinary people.”