Tampa, Fla. — Mitt Romney accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday night with a speech contrasting his business success, family values and straightforward focus on job creation with what he says are President Obama’s unrealized promises and lofty rhetoric of the 2008 campaign.
With nearly 45 minutes of prime time television, a relaxed Romney made the most important sales pitch of his life, offering himself as a successor to Obama, a barrier-shattering president whose election excited America, yet ultimately failed to deliver.
To undermine the Democratic president, Romney invoked the heady emotion surrounding Obama’s election.
“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.”
It was a victorious night for Romney, whose presidential ambitions had seemed destined to fall short of the GOP nomination. His first campaign fell flat in 2008, and GOP voters spent months earlier this year flirting with a string of other contenders, who took turns as favorites.
Romney, often derided as robotic, made his entrance to the podium through the convention crowd, walking down a red carpet, shaking hands and even fist-bumping delegates who reached over a rope to touch him as he moved to the stage.
“Mr. Chairman, delegates,” Romney began, once he reached the microphone. “I accept your nomination for president of the United States of America. I do so with humility, deeply moved by the trust you have placed in me. It is a great honor. It is an even greater responsibility.”
Republican officials, and many delegates, held that Romney had to humanize himself in the address to the nation, conveying concern and sympathy for the troubles of others. One after another, Thursday evening’s speakers told of Romney’s kindness and help to sick children, businessmen in trouble and elderly shut-ins.
Romney continued to mine that vein.
“A united America will care for the poor and the sick, will honor and respect the elderly, and will give a helping hand to those in need,” Romney said.
One of the Connecticut delegates, state Sen. L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich, said, “This is the speech that will get him elected.”
“It shows he cares more about Americans and their problems than the current president,” Frantz said.
Tom Foley, a delegate and former ambassador to Ireland, said the “friendliness factor” was a concern, because Obama is well-liked. “There are still people who like President Obama, who still thinks he speaks well,” Foley said.
Romney tried to combat his reputation as a distant, shrewd millionaire.
“You need to know more about me and about where I will lead our country,” he said.
He spoke of his wife, Ann, and their five sons.
“Unconditional love is a gift that Ann and I have tried to pass on to our sons and now to our grandchildren,” he said.
Romney also said his mother had complained, “Why should women have less say than men in the decisions facing our country?” The line was rewarded with loud cheers from women in the hall.
The speech was crafted to address the gender gap. Romney spoke at length about the women in his life: his partnership with his wife; his mother’s run for public office; and the women he appointed to high-level jobs as governor.
“As governor of Massachusetts, I chose a woman lieutenant governor, a woman chief of staff, half of my cabinet and senior officials were women, and in business, I mentored and supported great women leaders who went on to run great companies,” he said.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said the speech’s aim to humanize Romney worked.
“He’s more in touch than any of those people in the White House,” he said.
Jim Messina, the manager of the Obama campaign, said Romney’s speech was style over substance.
“Much like the entire Republican convention, Mitt Romney’s speech tonight offered many personal attacks and gauzy platitudes, but no tangible ideas to move the country forward,” he said.
Romney promised he would create 12 million jobs, though he skimped on detail. The night was about telling a story of his life, of trying to show a common touch.
Romney spoke of his early struggles at Bain Capital, the investment company that made him a young multi-milionaire, and how that business eventually suceeded, but he wrapped it in a self-deprecating joke about his fear of going to hell if he accepted investments from his Mormon church.
“I had thought about asking my church’s pension fund to invest, but I didn’t. I figured it was bad enough that I might lose my investors’ money, but I didn’t want to go to hell, too. Shows what I know,” he said, smiling. “Another of my partners got the Episcopal Church pension fund to invest. Today there are a lot of happy retired priests who should thank him.”
Jerry Labriola, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, called the speech “a brilliant reintroduction of Mitt Romney to the country.”
“In plain language he was able to set the record straight in the area he’s been attacked, his business background,” he said.
But Romney’s biggest applause came when he vowed to “repeal and replace Obamacare” and knocked Democrats by saying “in America we don’t apologize for success.”
He was gentler in his criticism of the president than many of the previous speakers, including Clint Eastwood, who had a bizarre, derogatory exchange with an imaginary Obama before Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida came out to introduce Romney.
But Romney, perhaps, won the loudest applause for a line crafted to simultaneously convey concern for struggling families, while ridiculing Obama’s early ambitions to transform the planet — and, it seemed, the science behind rising sea levels.
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Romney said, pausing as delegates laughed. “My promise is to help you and your family.”