Ann Romney has stepped out into a new role for the final stretch of the campaign: Character witness and defender in chief.

She admonishes her husband’s Republican critics, and tries to convince woman that Mitt Romney is on their side. She also counters the portrait her husband’s opponent paints of a soul-less corporate raider, and seeks to show his softer side, like she did Tuesday when she recalled how he made regular visits in the 1970s to a 14-year-old who was dying of cancer, even helping the boy write his will.

“That is where Mitt is when someone’s in trouble, he’s there, he’s by the bedside,” Ann Romney told a crowd at a park in this vote-rich area as her husband stayed out of sight ahead of Wednesday’s debate. “Right now the country’s in trouble. We need someone who cares, who truly understands what is going on.”