Steven Senne, File, Associated Press
FILE - In this March 19, 2012, file photo, Ann Romney speaks during a campaign stop at a restaurant in Springfield, Ill. Romney, who gave her first late-night TV interview to Jay Leno on the "Tonight show" Tuesday, told a sometimes feisty crowd in Reno that they have a lot to do in the final 40 days of the campaign.

RENO, Nev. — Ann Romney told a crowd of more than 500 people Thursday that she's taking to the campaign trail to combat accusations her husband thinks he is "above it all" or can't relate to regular people.

She said Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president, is a caring man with a big heart who "does things for the right reasons."

Ann Romney said Nevadans — whom she described as critical to the GOP's efforts to unseat President Barack Obama — already know Mitt Romney is a "capable" and "competent" man who could help jumpstart the U.S. economy's slow recovery.

"You all know how successful he has been in business," Ann Romney said during a 12-minute speech at the hot, noontime rally at an outdoor park amphitheater.

"I'm here to talk to you — not about the competency because it's there and we've heard a lot of that. It's about the caring piece of Mitt," she said.

"I'm the person that knows him best. I can tell you this man cares, that he's got a good heart, that he does things for the right reasons," she said.

Criticisms that the former Massachusetts governor "is a person who is above it all, or doesn't care, can't relate, all those things" are off base, Ann Romney said.

She went on to tell a story of how the Romneys as a young couple in Massachusetts often visited a family friend's teenage son who was in the hospital with cancer. She said their own son — now a doctor — was toddler at the time.

She said that when the 14-year-old boy knew the end was near, he asked Mitt Romney, a lawyer, to help him make a will so his friend would get his skateboard and his brother would get his rifle. His last request was for Mitt to speak at his funeral.

"That is the Mitt I know," Ann Romney said. "He is a person who will be there. That's why he's running. He cares."

Democrats have stepped up efforts to portray Romney as a wealthy elitist out of touch with everyday people since a secret recording emerged showing him saying that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims and are dependent on government.

The latest Obama campaign spot released this week features audio of Romney speaking over photos of people who might fit into that 47 percent category: women with children, veterans, Hispanics and working-class women.

Ann Romney, who gave her first late-night TV interview to Jay Leno on the "Tonight show" Tuesday, told a sometimes feisty crowd in Reno that they have a lot to do in the final 40 days of the campaign.

"We have to win this state," she said at the rally at Bartley Ranch regional park on the edge of the Sierra foothills near the family ranch of the late casino mogul Bill Harrah.

Washoe County has become a bit of a battleground within the battleground of Nevada because it traditionally sides with Republicans but has seen Democratic registration on the rise in recent years. Last election, Obama became the first Democrat to carry Washoe County since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Both candidates have made numerous visits to Nevada, mostly Las Vegas — which is staunchly Democratic — but also in the north. The president plans to return to Las Vegas on Sunday and first lady Michelle Obama to Reno on Wednesday.

Ann Romney spoke on the stage at a 400-seat outdoor theater near a horse barn, with bales of hay and pumpkins in front, and dozens of women in the background waving signs that read, "Women for Mitt," ''Moms for Mitt," ''Teachers for Romney," ''College Students for Ann."

"I want to tell you how comfortable I feel at an equestrian event, so shall we talk some horse sense?" she said before listing off Nevada's place near the top of foreclosure and unemployment lists.

"We cannot — Nevadans cannot — afford four more years of Barack Obama," she said to cheers. "It's time to fire the coach."