The Grieving Widow Behind Romney's Speech

Romney has since told Horton's story multiple tiems as part of his stump speech.

October 9, 2012, 1:08 PM

Oct. 10, 2012 -- Jane Horton began crying on the other end of the phone when she learned that Mitt Romney had been using the story of her husband, Chris Horton, who was killed in Afghanistan, as a part of his stump speech.

"Wow," the 26-year-old said. "I had no idea.

"To be honest, I've been through a lot and I'm not a super emotional person but it brings me to tears," Horton said in an interview with ABC News, after being informed of her husband's newfound spot on the national stage. "Not that he's telling my story, but that he's telling my husband's story, it means the world to me.

"One of the last things my husband said to me before he was killed, when I would ask him, 'Chris, what do you need over there? What can I send you?' he said, 'I need a new president,'" Horton recalled.

Tune in to Thursday for live-streaming coverage of the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate moderated by ABC News' Martha Raddatz in Danville, Ky. Coverage kicks off with ABC's live preview show at noon, and full debate coverage begins at 8 p.m.Chris Horton, who was acting as a combat sniper in the Oklahoma National Guard, was killed when he and several others were ambushed in Paktya, Afghanistan, in September 2011. When he was buried, protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church turned up at his funeral, and as Romney now tells it to crowds of thousands, his wife wasn't angry.

"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 at a rally last weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla. "This is quite a nation we live in. There are some extraordinary people."

Romney has since told Horton's story three more times to similarly sized crowds, along with two other personal stories of people he has known over the years, a way for him to connect with voters.

For Horton, Romney's decision to use her husband's story once came as a surprise, when a friend posted an article from the St. Petersburg event on her Facebook page. But she'd had no idea that he'd continue to do so, again and again.

Horton said nobody from the campaign reached out to her to ask if it was OK for Romney to use her story in his speech, but she is "deeply humbled" by the news.

"I thought it was just a onetime thing," Horton said.

Horton, like her late husband, is a Romney supporter. He had a small role in his 2008 campaign in their Oklahoma office and she has worked here and there for his bid this time around.

They first spoke when Romney wrote her a handwritten letter after Chris was killed. It was Oct. 1, 2011, Horton said, re-reading the letter as she spoke, remembering that she was shocked Romney had put two and two together -- that one of his many staffers had been killed and he'd figured out a way to find his wife.

A few months later, Horton still touched by Romney's outreach and thinking about her husband's support of the candidate, decided to send the candidate his name tape -- the part of a soldier's uniform that displays his last name.

Horton received another handwritten note from Romney thanking her, and communication dropped off between them until August 2012, when Horton decided to ask the campaign if she could meet him when she went to the Republican National Convention where she'd be acting as an Oklahoma delegate.

"I didn't want to meet him because he could be the next president, I wanted to meet him to thank him for all of his time, all the time he took to care about me and hand write me twice," Horton explained.

And they did meet -- the morning after Romney's speech at the RNC, just before a rally in Lakeland, Fla., when staff members organized for her to climb aboard his campaign bus.

"I said to him, 'Hi, President Romney,' and he laughed and 'not yet,'" Horton said.

"He spent at least 10 minutes with me, I was truly impressed," she said. "Even if [President] Obama did that for me, even if Hillary Clinton did that for me, I'd say the exact same thing. It doesn't matter who it is but that someone cares about me that much, on the most important day of his life -- he had just become the nominee -- and he's going to take me on his tour bus and get to me and get to know Chris?"

Horton said that she is aware of the criticism of Romney that he's not "real" enough.

"[People] will say he's not a person, he's a robot, he doesn't have feelings, he just has money, but that's just ridiculous," she said.

Horton said she doesn't want people to think Romney is "exploiting" her story -- she does not think that's what he's doing.

"It's the greatest honor of my life because I feel like I've accomplished what my husband would have wanted, he'd want his spirit to live on in me and I feel like that's happening right now," she said.

According to the results of a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, Romney is now seen favorably by 47 percent of registered voters overall, unfavorably by 51 percent. President Obama's rating is still better, 55-44 percent, but Romney's numbers are his best to date among conservatives.

To help boost these numbers, Romney has been doing more off-the-cuff campaigning, making impromptu stops at Florida restaurants and redirecting his motorcade so he could meet a group of excited elementary school kids. Stories like Horton's are just another addition to the recent Romney repertoire, as the campaign looks to improve the candidate's reputation among undecided voters in the month that remains before Election Day.

Asked how she feels that her story is being touted as one of the ways Romney will turn that criticism around -- and could help improve the public perception of him -- Horton began to cry again.

"I just started bawling because if I had anything to do with that I can't tell you how much that would mean to Chris," she said. "It would make it all worth it for him, and so worth it for me."

As for plans to talk to Romney again, Horton says she'll wait and knows how busy he is, but can't help but notice that he still frequently wears the bracelet bearing Chris's name and the date of his death right next to his watch. Horton gave it to him the morning that they met.

Last week, as Romney debuted Horton's story at that outdoor rally in St. Petersburg, there it was on, his wrist, visible as he rolled up his sleeves to address the crowd.

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