Mitt Romney vowed to rescue the US economy and create jobs on Thursday as he accepted the Republican presidential nomination at the climax of a convention that sought to humanise the candidate.
“What is needed in our country today is not complicated or profound. It doesn’t take a special government commission to tell us what America needs,” Romney said in his prime-time pitch. “What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs.”
The former Massachusetts governor told Americans that Barack Obama had singularly failed to deliver the “hope and change” he had promised and that the country must elect him to save an economy crippled by wrong-headed policies.
“Our problem is not that he is a bad person, our problem is that he is a bad president,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio agreed as part of a barnstorming introduction to Romney that did the rising star’s lofty ambitions no harm at all.
Romney’s elevation to official challenger to Obama in the November election comes more than five long years after he launched his first White House bid and with the current race neck-and-neck and dependent on a handful of key states.
The convention injects momentum into the Republican campaign as Romney slingshots out of Tampa on a 10-week dash across battleground states like Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado — any of which could decide the race.
After trailing for months, the multi-millionaire former venture capitalist has recently drawn even in national polls with Obama, an incumbent saddled with a sluggish US economy and stubbornly high unemployment.
Romney has touted his business acumen, arguing that he has the skills necessary to steer America back to prosperity, but he trails Obama badly in terms of likability and can come across as stiff, awkward and out-of-touch.
The job of softening Romney’s edges has largely fallen to his wife Ann, who brought down the house on Tuesday with a rousing speech about their high school romance, their all-American family and his devotion to public service.
During Thursday’s climax to three nights of raucous political theatre, a succession of speeches and appearances completed a carefully choreographed attempt to reintroduce Romney as a more touchy-feely character.
His son Craig was followed by members of Romney’s Mormon church, a cohort of Olympians, and even a surprise cameo from legendary Hollywood star Clint Eastwood, as the Republicans launched a coordinated charm offensive.
A still-grieving couple — members of Romney’s church — described his caring compassion and many acts of kindness towards their teenage son who was dying of cancer, including helping him write up a will.
“Mitt brought joy to a young boy who hadn’t experienced any for too long. He also gave the rest of us a welcome release,” said the couple, Ted and Pat Oparowski, as they recounted a heart-rending tale of parental loss.
Romney himself did not dwell on his faith, a form of Christianity that many still distrust, but his speech did contain personal anecdotes intended to help him connect better with middle class Americans.
“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,” he said.
Wrapped inside his family message was also a targeted pitch at the women voters who could prove decisive on election day but risk being alienated by Republican positions on social issues like abortion.
“My mom and dad were true partners, a life lesson that shaped me by everyday example,” he said.
“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?'”
But the overriding narrative of Romney’s speech was that Obama had had his chance and failed, and it was time to elect someone who could turn things around.
“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 asked.
“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. To put aside the divisiveness and the recriminations. To forget about what might have been and to look ahead to what can be.
“Now is the time to restore the promise of America.”