TAMPA, Fla. -- Ann Romney kicked off her prime-time address wearing a bright red dress -- Ronald Reagan's favorite color and one occasionally worn by his wife, Nancy. She immediately addressed one of the main criticisms that Democrats have leveled against her husband, the Republican presidential nominee: that he's an out-of-touch rich guy who doesn't understand the struggles of the middle class and the poor.
Like many other convention speakers who referenced the convention's "We Built It" theme, Ann Romney noted that neither she, nor her husband, nor their parents started out successful. Of her marriage, she said, "We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish. Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining room table was a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen. Those were very special days."
She also made a direct pitch to women. Polls show Mitt Romney trailing President Obama with women. Looking directly into the camera, Ann said, "I love you women! And I hear your voices."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came next. He may have surprised some people who had expected him to deliver a rhetorical carpet-bombing of President Obama. Mostly, though, he took the higher road.
In what might have been a pre-emptive strike against the Democrats who meet next week in Charlotte, N.C., and who appear preoccupied with abortion and contraceptives, Christie addressed the problems of the nation. He called for shared sacrifice and bipartisanship to solve the nation's growing debt, caused largely by entitlement programs. Christie cited his success in New Jersey, which he said has "700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans."
Christie rejected the notion that seniors care only about themselves and not their children and grandchildren and the uncertain future of entitlement programs that await them when they retire.
Christie implied Democrats were more interested in being popular and loved than in repairing the economy. That keeps them, he said, from saying no to any request for more government spending. Christie said Romney would "say 'no' when 'no' is what's required."
While there was talk of "ideas" from many of the speakers, this was an opening night less about ideology and more about a serious appeal to Americans to do what most people know instinctively, if not in actuality, must be done: We can't go on spending as if there is no tomorrow, or there won't be one, and America will become a second-class country.
"Our ideas are right for America, and their ideas have failed America," said Christie. Democrats may argue that point, but the evidence is on the side of the Republicans.
Voters want to know if they should give power to Republicans again in this election, so soon after the last time the party held all three branches of government. Will things be different this time. Will Republicans actually fix entitlement programs, create more jobs and do the hard things Christie spoke about? Or will Republicans simply manage big government, cutting a little here and a little there, which will have no lasting effect on government growth?
Perhaps Mitt Romney will, like Ann, make his own "solemn commitment" to do these things in his acceptance speech Thursday night. Americans are wary of politicians who make grand promises (as President Obama's poll numbers suggest). But now is the time for not only grand promises, but also grand solutions -- Republican solutions.
Christie said at the end of his speech that we can make this a "second American century." We can, but the question is less about our ability than our willingness. That is what the coming election will determine.
Examiner Columnist Cal Thomas is nationally syndicated by Tribune Media.