TAMPA, Fla. – Mitt Romney on Thursday kicked off the final, crucial phase of his bid to become the country’s 45th president, accepting the Republican nomination and urging the nation to look closely at his resume, his vision and his remedies for the ailing economy.
“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division,” Romney told a raucous crowd waving signs saying, “Believe” and “Mitt!”
“This isn’t something we have to accept,” he insisted. “Now is the moment when we can do something. And with your help we will do something.”
Romney’s 38-minute speech was the final act of a tightly scripted Republican National Convention that briefly went off course just as the candidate was due to speak. Actor-director Clint Eastwood introduced Romney with a rambling speech that included a debate with an empty chair. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida followed and quickly got the proceedings back on a loftier track.
“Do we want our children to inherit our hopes and dreams, or do we want them to inherit our problems?” he asked. “Mitt Romney believes that if we succeed in changing the direction of our country, our children and grandchildren will be the most prosperous generation ever, and their achievements will astonish the world.”
Then came Romney, walking through the crowd, grasping hands of delegates, slowly coming down the red carpet in a move that put him in close contact with smiling delegates, a visual rebuttal to an image of him as aloof and out of touch. He jogged up the stairs to the podium, waved gently to the crowd and stood with a polite smile as delegates bounced and cheered in front of him.
“Mr. Chairman. Delegates. I accept your nomination for president of the United States.”
After the cheers subsided, thousands at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and as many as 40 million people across America, then prepared to take the measure of the man Republicans want so badly to topple President Barack Obama.
Romney appealed to the nation’s enduring optimism. “Now is the moment when we can stand up and say, ‘I’m an American. I make my destiny. We deserve better. My children deserve better. My family deserves better. My country deserves better,’ ” he said, his voice rising with each sentence. “So here we stand. Americans have a choice, a decision.”
The 2012 election will offer a stark choice between two kinds of leaders with two distinct views of America’s future.
Romney got one of his biggest cheers when he said that Obama “promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans … and heal the planet. My promise … is to help you and your family.”
Romney said he understands many are disappointed with Obama, whose job approval numbers in key national polls have been under 50 percent.
“Hope and change had a powerful appeal,” Romney said, recalling Obama’s 2008 mantra. “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?
“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,” said the 65-year-old former Massachusetts governor and business executive.
“He took office without the basic qualification that most Americans have and one that was essential to his task. He had almost no experience working in a business. Jobs to him are about government,” Romney charged.
To make the choice, Romney said, America must get to know him better. He talked fondly of his wife and family, explained his religious views and recalled his days as a businessman trying to start a small company.
The speech was Romney’s first, best chance to stand before the nation alone as his party’s nominee, his message unfiltered, and make his case.
Traditionally, candidates get a bounce in support from such appearances, though this one could evaporate more quickly than usual, as Obama will give his own address at the Democratic National Convention next Thursday.
Romney faces two perceptions that have dogged him throughout his presidential run: That he lacks warmth and that his positions on issues are too malleable.
He spoke of his family, occasionally choking up.
“My mom and dad gave their kids the greatest gift of all, the gift of unconditional love. They cared deeply about who we would be, and much less about what we would do,” Romney said. His parents were well-known political figures in his native Michigan. His father, George, was the state’s governor from 1963 to 1969, and his mother, Lenore, unsuccessfully ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 1970.
Mitt Romney talked about his wife, Ann, who addressed the convention Tuesday night and received praise for adding a human touch to the convention.
With his Mormon faith still a cause of some quiet resistance from evangelical Christians – he would be the first of his religion elected president – Romney patiently described what his faith means to him as his family moved to new places. “We were Mormons and growing up in Michigan; that might have seemed unusual or out of place but I really don’t remember it that way,” he said. “My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we went to.”
Romney has also had a political obstacle to overcome. He has never been overwhelmingly popular with conservative Republicans who vividly remember his stewardship of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 and his championing of a near-universal health care system.
That plan is regarded as the model for the 2010 federal health care law that Republicans feverishly oppose. Romney said again Thursday that he wants the federal law repealed, but he struggled during the primary and caucus season to rebuff challenges from Republican candidates who lacked much stature.
Romney’s campaign believes, and polling confirms, that this election is largely a referendum on who can best manage the economy.
“I am running for president to help create a better future,” Romney said. “A future where everyone who wants a job can find one. Where no senior fears for the security of their retirement. An America where every parent knows that their child will get an education that leads them to a good job and a bright horizon.”
Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has proposed changing how seniors get health insurance coverage after 2023. They would get federal aid to buy coverage either from private insurers or traditional Medicare. No current seniors would be affected.
Romney devoted much of his talk to his plan to create 12 million new jobs and criticizing Obama’s stewardship of the economy.
“What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs. In the richest country in the history of the world, this Obama economy has crushed the middle class.” Romney said.
He offered a five point plan:
• Promoting North American energy independence “by taking full advantage of our oil and coal and gas and nuclear and renewables.”
• Giving people proper training for jobs of the future. “When it comes to the school your child will attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance,” he said.
• Forging new trade agreements and getting tougher with cheaters.
• Cutting the federal deficit. Romney wants to limit nondiscretionary domestic spending to 20 percent of the economy, down from the current 24 percent. He has offered few specifics.
• Providing a friendlier climate for small business. Taxes would be reduced, and regulations would be simplified or eliminated.