By Justin Sink - 08/31/12 02:46 AM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday in a speech aimed squarely at swing voters disillusioned with President Obama and a still-lagging economy.
Arguing that “what America need is jobs,” the former Massachusetts governor asked voters to “forget about what might have been and to look ahead to what can be.”
The speech electrified an eager crowd of delegates packed into the Tampa Forum, who rose repeatedly to their feet to cheer and applaud the GOP nominee while waving signs that exclaimed “Mitt!” and “Believe!”
But Romney's address was clearly aimed at swing voters watching at home, who thus far have been reluctant to embrace a candidate who can seem stiff and private.
Romney acknowledged as much in his speech, telling Americans that to win their vote, “you need to know more about me and about where I will lead our country.”
The GOP nominee spoke after a night in which personal friends, business colleagues and former Olympians gave testimonials on Romney’s character, intelligence and genuine nature.
When Romney took the stage, he spoke earnestly about his family and faith, calling them the foundation of American values.
“We look to our communities, our faiths, our families for our joy, our support, in good times and bad,” Romney said. “It is both how we live our lives and why we live our lives. The strength and power and goodness of America has always been based on the strength and power and goodness of our communities, our families, our faiths.”
In a moment that hushed the convention floor, Romney choked up as he told the story of how his father — married to his mother for more than six decades — would bring a rose each day to his mother’s bedside.
“That's how she found out what happened on the day my father died – she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose,” Romney said.
And he looked to frame his business experience — often disparaged by the Obama campaign in campaign ads and speeches — as a force for good.
“That business we started with 10 people has now grown into a great American success story,” Romney said. “Some of the companies we helped start are names you know. An office supply company called Staples – where I'm pleased to see the Obama campaign has been shopping; The Sports Authority, which became a favorite of my sons. We started an early childhood learning center called Bright Horizons that first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaOvernight Tech: Facebook's Sandberg comes to Washington | Senate faces new surveillance fight | Warren enters privacy debate Michelle Obama signs up for Snapchat Michelle Obama: 'It's time for us to come together' MORE rightly praised."
Romney reportedly wrote and rewrote the passages in recent weeks, looking to strike the perfect balance between authenticity and openness. A candidate who top aides have repeatedly described as humble and private seemingly looked to convince Americans to invite him into their living rooms every day for the next four years.
And at points, the results of that work paid off: He earned hearty laughs as he joked he didn’t want to risk losing the investment money of the Mormon church — “I didn’t want to go to hell, too.”
He also delivered a sharp critique of the president's priorities in a line that is likely to become a new refrain on the campaign trail.
"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet," Romney said. "My promise is to help you and your family."
At others, his natural stiffness shone through. The speech was delayed thanks to a rambling and strange opening by actor Clint Eastwood, and Romney did not begin speaking until 10:36 — well past the planned time. Early in the speech, the convention center crowd began chanting “USA” to drown out Code Pink protesters in the balcony, and Romney began rushing through his remarks.
One concern of the nominee was clear: appealing to women voters. Looking to combat Democratic cries of a “war on women,” Romney highlighted how women held top positions in his campaign and Cabinet. In total, he mentioned “women” or “woman” a six times and “mother” or “mom” another dozen.
“When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way. I can still hear her saying in her beautiful voice, ‘Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?’” Romney said to a rousing ovation.
Romney and Obama are deadlocked in polls, with the president appearing to have an edge in several swing states despite a bad economy. Observers have chalked Obama’s edge up to a combination of factors that include the president’s likability and Romney’s stiffness.
Perhaps with the personal approval ratings of Obama in mind, Romney emphasized attacks on Obama’s economic record in asking voters to make a change.
“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.”
He told those who were disillusioned and disgruntled that his candidacy offered pragmatic experience, an appeal to the rational over the emotional from a man tacitly admitting he lacks the dynamism of his opponent — and even some of his allies who had spoken earlier in the week.
And he accused the president not simply of mudslinging but of undermining American success stories.
“The centerpiece of the President’s entire reelection campaign is attacking success,” Romney said. “Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success has led the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression?”
And he presented his vision for the future of the country: one where fewer regulations and lower taxes would usher in economic growth. Romney said his platform would usher in 12 million jobs within his first term and said small businesses would serve as the engine of American employment growth.
The speech was light on specifics, essentially reheating the same five-point plan Romney has hammered of late on the stump .Cursory pledges of forging new trade agreements, tapping new sources of energy and repealing the president’s signature healthcare package were granted — the last of which earned rousing cheers from the crowd.
It was to these claims that the Obama campaign most vehemently objected, flooding reporters’ inboxes with statements contesting the claims and arguments made by its opponent.
“This would be the same number of jobs that independent economists project we will add under current policies,” said Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith. And in fact, independent economists have said that Romney’s policies would slow the recovery and even push us back into a recession.”
The quick clip at which Romney addressed the substantive policies embodied by his candidacy betrayed the sheer amount of things he hoped to accomplish in the speech, an odd first introduction to many Americans for a man who has been running for president for the better part of six years. But the discrete parts built to a rallying crescendo, at which Romney rallied Americans to untie together “to build the greatest economy in the world” and save it “from unspeakable darkness.”
“That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us,” Romney said. “Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it. And with your help we will deliver it. Let us begin that future together tonight.”
— This report was posted at 10:46 p.m. and updated at 11:24 p.m.