TAMPA, Florida (CNN) — Promising his traditional conservative policies will restore America’s greatness, Mitt Romney accepted the Republican presidential nomination and then prepared to campaign with his running mate on Friday in two swing states vital to their chances of defeating President Barack Obama in November.
In the most important political speech of his life, Romney on Thursday night evoked themes and imagery of GOP icon Ronald Reagan in describing to a cheering Republican National Convention a future of opportunity and promise for the nation after what he called the failed policies under Obama.
He recalled the excitement of the country in electing Obama four years ago, saying the president’s campaign theme of “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.”
While his own patriotism caused him to hope Obama would succeed, the president’s 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,” he said. “Now is the moment when we can stand up and say, ‘I’m an American. I make my destiny. And we deserve better! My children deserve better! My family deserves better. My country deserves better!'”
When Romney finished, clouds of red, white and blue balloons floated down as running mate Rep. Paul Ryan joined him on stage, followed quickly by their wives and families amid the cheers and confetti.
Storm-shortened convention concludes
He and Ryan will campaign together on Friday in Florida and Virginia, then head to Ohio on Saturday as Democrats prepare to hold their convention next week in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Romney’s prime-time, nationally televised address concluded a storm-shortened convention that sought to galvanize the conservative Republican base behind him and frame the upcoming election as a referendum on Obama’s presidency.
Protesters briefly interrupted him early in the speech, with one shouting “people over profits” in reference to the multimillionaire former businessman’s career in private equity. The crowd shouted “U.S.A, U.S.A” to drown them out, and one was removed after a brief scuffle.
Ryan had energized the convention on Wednesday night with a powerful attack on Obama that championed conservative principles.
On Thursday, speakers, including Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood, laid the foundation for Romney’s highly anticipated speech that was intended to provide those Americans just tuning in to the presidential race with an introduction to the man and candidate.
CNN analysts called the speech successful in appealing to the base and showing Romney’s personal side, but also said it was business-like at times and offered no new ideas or proposals from the candidate who has been on the trail for the past year.
“It had a lot of heart. It needed more soul. It needed more poetry,” said CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen, while Gloria Borger, the CNN chief political analyst, said the themes Romney emphasized showed what audience his campaign wanted to reach — Obama supporters disappointed with the president today and women, who polls show favor the Democratic incumbent.
She and CNN Chief National Correspondent John King panned Eastwood’s appearance, which included a comedy routine of a fictional discussion with Obama, as a mistake by organizers that detracted from the candidate’s defining speech.
In his address, Romney provided a biographical look at his life, talking about his parents — who both held or ran for political office — and his Mormon faith. Earlier, members of his church gave testimonials to Romney’s help and compassion during past crises, such as the early death of one couple’s son.
A rose for his mother and raising five boys
Criticized for being stiff and impersonal at times on the campaign trail, Romney told stories of family life — the single rose his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, gave his mother every day, and the incessant household noise in raising five boys. Paying tribute to his wife, Ann, Romney expressed admiration for the role of women in society in a bid to appeal to women voters.
Romney also injected humor, telling how he decided against approaching his church as a young man to invest in his new company.
“I figured it was bad enough I might lose my investor’s money, but I didn’t want to go to hell, too,” he quipped.
Romney then focused on his ideas for ending the nation’s economic challenges — lingering high unemployment, sluggish economic recovery, and a chronic deficit and debt problem.
“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,” he said. “Now is the time to restore the promise of America. 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.”
Focusing his message on the economy — an issue that polls show him winning with voters — Romney said the country’s needs are not “complicated or profound.”
“What America needs is jobs, lots of jobs,” he said, arguing Obama offers only more of the same to people who “now believe that the future will not be better than the past.”
He repeated campaign-tested promises to repeal Obama’s 2010 health care reforms detested by conservatives, increase domestic oil production, reduce government regulations and cut taxes on businesses. Romney also pledged to assert U.S. might and influence around world, saying “we will honor America’s democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world.”
Other issues mentioned reflected traditional conservative policies — opposition to gay marriage and abortion, no tax increase for the middle class, and strong support for Israel.
“If I am elected president of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future,” Romney said. “That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. 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 for America tonight.”
Rubio and a Reagan tribute
Eastwood and other preceding speakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, sounded similar themes in different ways.
Gingrich and his wife, Callista, narrated a tribute to Reagan that focused on differences between the policies and vision of the former president compared to those of Obama and Jimmy Carter, who preceded Reagan in the White House. Republicans seek to draw parallels between Obama and Carter, who lost to Reagan in 1980 after serving one troubled term.
Rubio, whose parents came to America from Cuba, emphasized the theme of American opportunity that offered a new life to his family and allowed him to become a U.S. senator. Referring to his father, who worked as banquet bartender, Rubio said: “He stood behind a bar in the back of the room all those years, so one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room.”
“That journey, from behind that bar to behind this podium, goes to the essence of the American miracle — that we’re exceptional, not because we have more rich people here,” Rubio said. “We’re special because dreams that are impossible anywhere else, come true here.”
Eastwood used an empty chair as a prop for his one-sided talk with Obama, drawing laughs by portraying the president as unable and unwilling to defend his policies. He called 23 million Americans out of work a “national disgrace,” and said “possibly it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem.”
For Romney, 65, the nomination puts him within one step of the goal he first sought in 2007 by running for president after serving as a Republican governor for four years in traditionally Democratic Massachusetts.
A political tightrope
Though rivals including Gingrich challenged his conservative credentials in the 2012 primaries, Romney emerged victorious. Now he continues to walk a political tightrope in trying to energize right-wing support while also appealing to moderates and independent voters.
On Wednesday, Ryan used the biggest speech of his still young political career to tell the party faithful and the American public Wednesday that time is running out to solve the nation’s fiscal problems, but the GOP ticket can do it if elected.
“We will not duck the tough issues — we will lead,” Ryan said in his prime-time address televised nationwide. “… The work ahead will be hard. These times demand the best of us — all of us, but we can do this. We can do this. Together, we can do this.”
Romney chose Ryan, the conservative House Budget Committee chairman from Wisconsin, as his running mate in hopes that the fiscal expert known for big and hard-line ideas would strengthen support on the political right and appeal to moderates and independents seeking solutions for the nation’s economic woes.
Ryan, 42, focused mostly on the fiscal issues that are his strength, such as the national debt, stimulus spending under Obama and his proposed Medicare reforms that would partially privatize the government health care system for senior citizens.
Obama and Democrats have attacked the Ryan plan, and he sought to turn the tables on the issue by repeating the factually challenged assertion that the president cut Medicare by more than $700 billion to cover the costs of the 2010 health care reform law passed by Democrats.
The figure comes from a July 24 Congressional Budget Office report that said repealing the health care law, as called for by Romney and Ryan, would increase spending on Medicare by $716 billion through 2022. At the same time, the CBO letter said keeping the law known as Obamacare in place would not mean a $716 billion decrease in Medicare spending, as claimed by Ryan.
Independent fact-checking organizations have rated the Medicare cut accusation first made by Romney as mostly false. Ryan, however, said he and Romney welcomed the debate on how to ensure the long-term solvency of the popular entitlement program that is a key part of America’s social safety net.
Democrats also questioned the accuracy of other statements in Ryan’s speech, including an insinuation that Obama was responsible for a General Motors plant closing in the congressman’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, evern though plans to shut it down were announced before the 2008 election. Ryan also criticized Obama for rejecting a deficit reduction plan worked out by a commission that Ryan serve on, but eventually voted against its report.
Ryan has “made a decision to just simply separate himself from the facts and the truth,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads the Democratic National Committee, told CNN.
Asked Thursday about those issues, Ryan told CNN that his broader point was that Obama has failed to deliver on promises — whether to help workers at that GM plant keep their jobs or develop a comprehensive plan to reduce the nation’s mounting deficits and debt.
Obama: Romney ‘wants to go backwards’
Romney and Republicans contend that Obama’s policies, such as stimulus spending, have worsened an already bad economic situation the president inherited from the previous GOP administration of President George W. Bush. They propose traditional conservative policies to shrink government, cut taxes and drastically reform entitlements, steps they say will bring economic growth and job creation.
Obama and Democrats call such prescriptions failed policies of the past and propose increased revenue sources such as higher taxes for wealthy Americans to be part of a deficit reduction plan that includes some spending cuts and entitlement reforms.
“On almost every issue (Romney) wants to go backwards, sometimes all the way to the last century,” Obama said Wednesday at a campaign event in Virginia.
The president told Time Magazine in an interview made public Thursday that Democrats are not proposing radical solutions, and the nation doesn’t need drastic changes.
“If you’re willing to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, then you can make modest reforms on entitlements, reduce some additional discretionary spending, achieve deficit reduction and still preserve Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid in ways that people can count on,” Obama told Time, later adding that the country needs “some commonsense solutions that stay focused on helping middle-class families.”
“The only reason that you would have to go further than that is if there’s no revenue whatsoever,” he said. “And that’s a major argument that we’re having with the Republicans.”
The convention proceeded as Hurricane Isaac drenched the Gulf Coast after making landfall in Louisiana on Tuesday night, the eve of the seven-year anniversary of devastating Hurricane Katrina. The storm prompted Republican organizers to postpone the first day of the convention, which was a crucial opportunity for defining Romney to the American people.
Romney clinched the GOP nomination in the roll call of state delegates Tuesday after a rugged Republican primary campaign that saw momentum swings nearly every week and bitter attacks by GOP colleagues
The 2,200-plus convention delegates also approved a conservative platform that calls for less government, opposes same-sex marriage and endorses a “human life amendment” to ban abortion, with no specific exceptions for cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is threatened.
Throughout the convention, speaker after speaker has emphasized his or her own humble beginnings as descendants of immigrants who worked hard to achieve success for their families and never expected government help or handouts. Virtually every speaker took umbrage with Obama’s comment on the campaign trail that “you didn’t build that” in reference to successful businesses that received government help along the way.
The latest CNN/ORC International poll indicates a dead heat between Romney and Obama, with new numbers released Sunday showing that 53% of likely voters believe Obama is more in touch with their needs, compared with 39% for Romney.
Obama leads by an equal margin when it comes to being in touch with the middle class, and six in 10 say Obama is in touch with the problems facing women today, with just over three in 10 feeling the same way about Romney.
Romney leads 48% to 44% over Obama on managing the government effectively and has a 6-point advantage on having a clear plan for fixing the nation’s problems. Both figures are within the survey’s margin of error.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Kevin Bohn, Paul Steinhauser, Dana Davidsen, Ashley Killough, Dana Bash, Deirdre Walsh, Halimah Abdullah, Martina Stewart, Shawna Shepherd, Rachel Streitfeld and Mark Preston, and HLN’s Ed Hornick contributed to this report.