Southern Beaufort County Republicans caught a glimpse Wednesday of the personal life and character of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Ann Romney, wife of the former Massachusetts governor, spoke to members of local Republican clubs during a luncheon at Truffles restaurant in Bluffton.
The stop was her first solo campaign event of the election cycle, signaling the importance of the first-in-the-South primary state.
Romney said she had opposed the idea of her husband seeking a second bid for the White House after failing to win the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, but later realized he was the one person qualified to "turn this country around."
She told the crowd her husband has the leadership skills, experience, intelligence and values needed to bring the country "back to where we want it, which is the center-right."
"We are heading off to the left, and there's a lot of us who are real uncomfortable with that," she said. "Our way of life and, sometimes, maybe even our freedoms may be in peril. I love my (five) children and (16) grandchildren and want them to inherit a country I was able to grow up in."
She touted her husband's economic knowledge as a businessman and former governor, as well as his leadership in rescuing the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
"People are concerned about jobs and the economy, and that's Mitt's wheel house," she said. "That's what he knows, and he's proven to be successful at it."
She also worked to smooth the edges of Romney's public image as a stiff politician, portraying him as a casual family man and devoted husband.
"I want to tell you the more fun parts about Mitt. I'm not here to talk about his positions ... but the man and the character, because, to me, those are the things that you need when the tough decisions really come," she said.
The two met as teenagers and became high school sweethearts. They've been married 42 years.
In 1998, Ann Romney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
"I was very frightened, very weak and very sick," she said. "I thought, 'Oh dear, my life is going to be very different.' Mitt said, 'As long as it's not terminal, we'll be OK. You and I can face anything together.' "
Romney leads the field of Republican presidential candidates in South Carolina and Iowa polls.
Jerry Hallman, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, said he was "pleasantly surprised" by the visit. Hallman's son worked for the Olympics when Romney took over.
"I like Mitt Romney a lot," Hallman said, "and I think she's right in that he has what we need right now."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.