TAMPA, Fla. -– Good cop. Bad cop.

The Republican Party showed the nation one of its most winsome faces on the first night of the GOP's shortened three-day convention, giving Ann Romney the first half of prime time.

Romney gave a sentimental and personal description of her husband, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who on Tuesday night became the first Mormon to be nominated for president by either political party.

She was followed by the pit bull, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who stormed onto the stage clapping like a football coach in the fourth quarter, and delivered a gut-busting rebuke to the nation's political leadership and to a self-indulgent culture.

The contrast, which took up the last hour of a night in which the GOP showcased its top female and minority leaders, was clearest when Ann Romney and Christie discussed a topic not often spoken of in political speeches.

"I want to talk to you tonight about that one great thing that unites us … Tonight I want to talk to you about love," Ann Romney said.

Minutes later, in the headline speech of the convention, Christie took on the same theme, with a very different twist.

"I believe we have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved," Christie said.

Both speeches hinged on a relationship: Ann's with Mitt, Christie's with his mom. Ann emphasized her love for Mitt, and their family's love for the country and for others.

"I want to talk to you about the deep and abiding love I have for a man I met at a dance many years ago. And the profound love I have, and I know we share, for this country," she said.

Christie explained how his mother, who died eight years ago, "told me there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected."

He used that as an analogy for how he thinks the GOP must not shrink from offering solutions to the nation's biggest problems -– debt, deficits and a sagging entitlement state -– that might be unpopular.

"Tonight, we are going to do what my mother taught me. Tonight, we are going to choose respect over love," he said.

Christie's charisma energized the 20,000 or so delegates and supporters in the Tampa Bay Times Forum. But it was Ann's speech that was more critically important to her husband's political fortunes.

Romney is trailing President Barack Obama badly among women voters, especially in critical swing states like Ohio and Virginia. Romney also is not personally popular, even if more voters trust him on key issues like the economy and jobs.

And so his wife, a 63-year old cancer survivor and multiple sclerosis sufferer, had a dual purpose with her address: make a strong pitch for the female vote, and play up he husband's personal side.

She went for the women by identifying with them.

"It's the moms of this nation -- single, married, widowed -- who really hold this country together. We're the mothers, we're the wives, we're the grandmothers, we're the big sisters, we're the little sisters, and we are the daughters," Ann Romney said.

"I love you women! I hear your voices," she said.

And she made the case that the newly minted GOP nominee does not advertise his good deeds, an implicit acknowledgment that Democratic attacks on his character have hurt his image with many voters who do not know much about the 65-year old former private equity executive.

"This is important. I want you to hear what I'm going to say," Ann Romney said, asking for the crowd's attention in a line not in her prepared remarks. "Mitt doesn't like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point."

Throughout the three hours of speeches that preceded the last hour, and then again during speeches by Ann Romney and Christie, the GOP declared their party one that stands for hard work and American ingenuity. Many speakers played up their immigrant roots and humble beginnings.

"My dad got his first job when he was 6 years old, in a little village in Wales called Nantyffyllon, cleaning bottles at the Colliers Arms," Ann Romney said. "When he was 15, Dad came to America."

Christie said: "I am the son of an Irish father and a Sicilian mother."

Ted Cruz, the GOP's U.S. Senate candidate in Texas, described how his father "was imprisoned and tortured in Cuba, beaten nearly to death."

"He fled to Texas in 1957, not speaking English, with $100 sewn into his underwear. He washed dishes making 50 cents an hour to pay his way through the University of Texas, and to start a small business in the oil and gas industry," Cruz said. " We are all sons and daughters of those who risked everything for freedom, and we have the duty to pass that same opportunity to the generations to follow."

Others who took the podium included Mia Love, the 37-year old daughter of Haitian immigrants who is now mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and is running for Congress; South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the 40-year old daughter of Sikh immigrants from India; and Artur Davis, a former Democratic congressman from Alabama who has switched parties and is now one of the more prominent black men in the GOP.

Davis, who spoke at the Democratic convention in 2008, and was a prominent supporter of Obama, referenced his speech four years ago.

"It turned out I was in the wrong place, so Tampa, my fellow Republicans, thank you for welcoming me," he said.

The attempt to reach out to women and minorities was marred, however, by news reports that one convention-goer allegedly threw nuts at a black CNN camerawoman in the hall and said, "This is how we feed animals."

White men like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were relegated to slots earlier in the evening. Christie, a white male himself, was the keynote speaker for a simple reason: few national political figures from either party gives a speech like the 49-year old first-termer, and he has had surprising success in meeting his goals in a state where the legislature is controlled by Democrats.

Romney, Christie said, would be like, well, Christie.

"Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good-paying private sector jobs again in America," Christie said.

As Christie spoke, Romney -– having walked out on the stage with his wife after Ann finished her speech –- stood and applauded from a VIP box just off the convention floor.

On Wednesday night, Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will give the prime time speech, and on Thursday, Romney will end the convention with the biggest speech of his life.

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  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, left and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney waves to delegates after his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney acknowledges delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan and his wife Janna salute delegates following Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's speech during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. Behind is Mitt Romney and his wife Ann. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney waves to delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney acknowledges delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hugs a supporter as he walks to the stage during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney makes his way through delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, cheers as Olympians are introduced during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, right, and his wife Janna applaud during Florida Senator Marco Rubio's speech during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, right, along with Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left, applaud during Florida Senator Marco Rubio's speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Marco Rubio

    Florida Senator Marco Rubio addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Florida Senator Marco Rubio addresses delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Marco Rubio

    Florida Senator Marco Rubio addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Clint Eastwood

    Actor Clint Eastwood addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Actor Clint Eastwood speaks to an empty chair while addressed delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Tom Stemberg, founder and former CEO of Staples speaks to delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Bob White

    Chairman of the Romney-Ryan Campaign Bob White addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Pam Finlayson

    Pam Finlayson addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Frantz Placide and Sean Duffy, center, listen to Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, left, as he speaks during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Jeb Bush

    Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush steps onstage to speak to delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Oscar Poole

    Oscar Poole from Ellijay, Ga., wears his hat at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Newt Gingrich, Callista Gingrich

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista walk onto the stage to speak to delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista speak to delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Herman Cain recites the Pledge of Allegiance during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Connie Mack

    Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Senator Scott Brown, R-Mass., answers questions during a press conference in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

  • Stagehands make final adjustments to the expanded stage where Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will accept his party's nomination later tonight a the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Protesters yell as Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A delegate holds up a mask of Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Jeb Bush

    FILE In this Aug. 27, 2012 file photo, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush looks at the convention floor from the podium during a microphone check at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

  • Stagehands make final adjustments to the expanded stage where Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will accept his party's nomination later tonight a the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Paul Ryan

    Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan waves toward the delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Paul Ryan

    Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Sam Ryan yawns in his mother's arms while Janna listen to her husband Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan's speech during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. Right is Charlie Ryan. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, applauds with Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan's wife during Paul Ryan's speech during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan speaks to delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Condoleezza Rice

    Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Susana Martinez

    New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Condoleezza Rice

    Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Mike Huckabee

    Former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Mike Huckabee

    Former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Mike Huckabee

    Former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan's wife Janna, left, sits next to his mother Betty Ryan Douglas during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Tim Pawlenty

    Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Rob Portman

    Ohio Senator Rob Portman addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Rob Portman

    Ohio Senator Rob Portman addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • John Thune

    South Dakota Senator John Thune gestures to the delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Rob Portman

    Ohio Senator Rob Portman waves to the delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)