An energized Mitt Romney accepted the Republican nomination for president Thursday night with an impassioned speech that urged voters disillusioned by President Barack Obama to entrust him with the country’s economy.
"Now is the time to restore the promise of America," Romney said in Tampa. "Many Americans have given up on this president, but they haven't ever thought about giving up. Not on themselves. Not on each other. And not on America."
"What is needed in our country today is not complicated or profound," he continued. "It doesn't take a special government commission to tell us what America needs. What America needs is jobs, lots of jobs."
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Romney, who four years ago lost the party’s nomination to John McCain, basked in his redemptive moment.
“Tonight I am asking you to join me to walk together to a better future,” he said.
Then he went after Obama, accusing him of failing to deliver the “hope and change” that he promised four years ago.
“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division,” Romney said. “This isn't something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we can do something. With your help we will do something.”
Romney made a pointed entreaty to voters who sided with Obama in 2008 but now feel disillusioned by the flagging economy.
“Hope and change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I'd ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now that he's President Obama?” Romney said. “You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
“Today the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us,” Romney said.
The address was not only the biggest of Romney's life, but it also represented a sort of vindication for his family: Romney’s father, George, a Michigan governor, failed in his run for the Republican nomination in 1968, and his mother, Lenore, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate two years later.
The speech brought the Republican National Convention to a close and launched Romney's fall campaign against Obama. Still ahead are several debates with the president.
With two months before election day, polls show Romney neck-and-neck with Obama, but trailing the president in likability, and among women. A sliver of undecided voters are expected to decide the contest.
Romney's remarks, which closed the Republican National Convention, gave the 65-year-old candidate a rare chance to connect with voters who don’t know much about him. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, founder of the asset management firm Bain Capital and president of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, sought to counter Democrats’ depiction of him as an out-of-touch tycoon.
To help Americans better relate with him, the entire evening’s lineup, leading up to Romney’s speech, was crafted with the goal of making Romney seem more identifiable, according to the Associated Press. His appearance was preceded by people representing different aspects of his adult life, which aides referred to as “character witnesses.” They included a colleague from Bain, the founder of Staples, which was aided by Bain, fellow leaders in the Mormon church, and former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey.
The audience also heard from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and a surprise speaker, Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood, who thrilled the crowd with a speech that blended humor and exasperation with Obama’s presidency. It included an imaginary conversation with Obama.
“When someone does not do the job, you gotta let them go,” Eastwood said.
Hours before Romney's appearance, his staff tweeted photos of him hanging out with his family, reviewing his speech on his iPad and cutting into a chicken pot pie.
Just before he hit the stage -- rebuilt to allow him to stand closer to the crowd -- the audience was shown a film about Romney’s life. The candidate was formally introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Romney paused from his criticism of Obama to tell his personal story, starting with a gauzy portrait of his father and mother, who he said raised him with “unconditional love.” He described his mother’s decision to run for public office, quoting her as saying, “Why should women have any less say than men about the great decisions facing our nation?”
In another apparent appeal to women voters, Romney touted the list of female leaders who spoke during the convention’s four days, and the many female advisers he relied on as governor of Massachusetts. He praised the sacrifices of his wife, Ann.
Romney described his work as a leader in the Mormon community, the first time he has spoken so overtly about his faith in the campaign.
He recounted building Bain into a massive operation that helped develop some of the country’s largest businesses, including Staples and Sports Authority.
“I learned the real lesson about how America works by experience,” Romney boasted.
He used that story to compare himself to Obama, arguing that the country needs a president who understands how to run a business.
Obama “had almost no experience working in a business. Jobs to him were about government,” Romney said.
“In America we celebrate success, we don’t apologize for success,” Romney added, drawing one of his many standing ovations.
He accused Obama of “leading the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression.”
Romney sketched a plan to create 12 million new jobs in his first four years in office: make America “energy independent,” broaden school choice, negotiate new trade agreements, cut the deficit, and implement a pro-business environment marked by lower taxes, softer regulations and repealing Obama’s health-care overhaul.
Romney praised Obama for ordering the killing of Osama Bin Laden. But he accused the president of failing to work hard enough to contain Iran’s nuclear threat and of appeasing Russia.
“To the majority of Americans who now believe that the future will not be better than the past," Romney said, "I can guarantee you this: if Barack Obama is re-elected, you will be right.”
He also ridiculed Obama’s environmental platform.
“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet," Romney said, pausing while the crowd guffawed. “My promise ... is to help you and your family.”
When he finished, Romney was joined by his wife, five sons, their wives, and more than a dozen grandchildren. Thousands of red, white and blue balloons dropped to the convention floor.
He was expected to attend a rally in Florida on Friday morning before heading to two other battleground states, Virginia and Ohio.