Romney's speech, wife lauded

Ann Romney believes her husband's speech on religion Thursday will go down in history, and in Las Vegas on Thursday night, she found many people who agreed with her.

"People were saying, 'It was like George Washington,' 'It was the Gettysburg Address,' " she said in an interview just after working a room of about 120 audience members, mostly women, at a restaurant in the JW Marriott in Summerlin.

"I mean, it was unbelievable, the response I heard from the people in there that heard it today. Almost everyone said they were moved to tears" by the speech, she said.

Romney is the wife of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whose campaign has been dogged by some voters' suspicion of his Mormon faith. Thursday morning in Texas, he gave a speech intended to dispel those concerns by urging people of faith to come together around shared values rather than focusing on doctrinal differences.

Ann Romney, Mitt Romney's wife of 38 years and the mother of their five adult sons, said her husband was determined to give the speech, "against the advice of all of our consultants," and wrote the speech himself.

Just before the couple and four of their sons left Thursday for the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library where the candidate would speak, she said, "We were all gathered in our hotel room, and we all knelt in prayer. And I was so moved, moved to tears, to know that I had my sons there with their arms around me."

During the speech, she said that she sat next to Barbara Bush, "and about every other line, she'd give me the elbow -- 'That was a great line.' Bang!" The former first lady also would relay messages from former President Bush, seated on her other side, "so it wasn't like she was commenting, it was like, 'Oh, George thought that was a great line too!' "

Mitt Romney's speech de-emphasized the particulars of his religion, which is unfamiliar to many Americans even if it is relatively well-known in Western states such as Nevada. His wife said that was purpose, even the point.

"The point of the speech was that as Americans, we come together with shared values," she said. "There's really no reason why he should have to explain" specific doctrines.

People who continue to harbor irrational prejudices against Mormons, she said, "might have those same prejudices against Catholics. They might have those same prejudices against Jews. So let us not single out one faith and have anyone have to explain."

Addressing the audience that had come to see her in Las Vegas, Ann Romney emphasized her family -- her sons and her 11 grandchildren -- as well as her struggle with multiple sclerosis.

She held up large, mounted photographs of each of her sons with their respective families, which were then handed off to aides who paraded the photos around the room.

And she recounted how, in late 1998, she was diagnosed with the crippling disease shortly before her husband agreed to take over the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which he is credited with rescuing from crisis.

When they moved to Utah, she said, she was weak, sick, depressed and nearly paralyzed on one side. But with her family by her side, she slowly made a comeback using medication, horseback riding and alternative therapies.

By the time of the Olympics, she said, she could walk again. And her husband chose her as one of the "heroes" who carried the Olympic torch across America, running by her side as she carried it, crying.

Even as she spoke of the most emotional experiences using the most superlative words, her voice was level and conversational.

Audience member Monty Jomeruck, a 77-year-old Las Vegan retired from the U.S. Foreign Service, thought she seemed like a real, down-to-earth person. Jomeruck said she hadn't previously known about the illness and was impressed with her courage.

"What she's been through, what she's overcome, that was new to me," she said. "I thought she was fabulous."

Jomeruck said she was now leaning toward supporting Mitt Romney but, as a native New Yorker, was torn between him and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"I really respect Mitt. He's a businessman, and he's a family man," she said. "But Giuliani, I think he could really beat Hillary (Clinton), and that's the most important thing to me."

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball or (702) 387-2919.