TAMPA, Fla. -- It comes down to love and jobs.
Mitt Romney touted "jobs, lots of jobs" as the cure for an ailing economy, and love as the healer of a world that can't be saved with laws and legislation in his speech Thursday at the Republican National Convention.
Binding the personal and the political in the launch of his fall campaign for the White House, Mr. Romney said he has a plan to create 12 million jobs and the background -- as a man of faith, family and business success -- to be the leader who could save the country.
"Now is the time to restore the promise of America," Mr. Romney said in his prime-time speech to a nation struggling with 8.3 percent unemployment and the slowest economic recovery in decades.
"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," Mr. Romney said.
Mr. Romney was more muted in his criticism of President Barack Obama than his running mate, Paul Ryan, who delivered a withering critique of the president in his Wednesday address.
"I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed," said Mr. Romney. "But his promises gave way to disappointment and division." He asserted that under a second Obama administration, the country would continue to struggle, while under his leadership a brighter future would come.
The speech had been touted for weeks as a way to present Mr. Romney, 65 and the first Mormon to become a major party presidential nominee, on a more personal basis to voters, emphasizing his faith, his devotion to family, and his business and personal biography.
A portion of the convention podium was rebuilt overnight so he would appear surrounded by delegates rather than speaking from a distance, an attempt to soften his image as a stiff and distant candidate. Testimonials about him from speakers who took the stage ahead of him had the same goal.
"He shoveled snow and raked leaves for the elderly. He took down tables and swept floors at church dinners," said Grant Bennett, describing Romney's volunteer work as an unpaid lay clergy leader in the Mormon church.
Ted and Pat Oparowski tenderly recalled how Romney befriended their 14-year-old son David as he was dying of cancer. "We will be ever grateful to Mitt for his love and concern," she said.
Beyond the heartfelt personal testimonials and political hoopla, the evening marked one of very few opportunities any presidential challenger is granted to appeal to millions of voters in a single night. Mr. Romney spoke of the importance of the love he felt from his parents and that he and his wife Ann have sought to give their children and grandchildren. He stressed the importance of community and his Mormon faith in his life, particularly his time helping struggling families when he served as a church leader in Boston. "We prayed together, our kids played together and we always stood ready to help each other out in different ways."
"All the laws and legislation in the world will never heal this world like the loving hearts and arms of mothers and fathers," he said.
Yet the economy is issue No. 1 in the race for the White House, and Mr. Romney presented his credentials as the man better equipped than the president to help create jobs.
"When I was 37, I helped start a small company," he said. "That business we started with 10 people has now grown into a great American success story." He touted well-known businesses he helped create, including Staples, Sports Horizons and Steel Dynamics.
He described his five-point plan for jobs: 1) energy independence by 2020 2) more school choice 3) new trade agreements and a promise to punish nations that cheat on trade agreements 4) deficit reduction and a pledge to put America "on track to a balanced budget" 5) reducing taxes on business, simplifying and modernizing regulations on business, and repealing the Health Care law passed under the Obama administration.
Mr. Romney's aides scripted a program that included a video tribute to Ronald Reagan, the two-term president still revered by conservatives. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also had his moment on the podium, and Newt and Callista Gingrich shared one of their own. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was tapped to introduce Mr. Romney.
He did not, however, describe how he would fulfill his pledge to reduce federal deficits or create 12 million jobs in a country where unemployment stands at 8.3 percent.
Mr. Romney has called for extension of tax cuts due to expire at all income levels at the end of the year, and has proposed an additional 20 percent cut in tax rates across the board. But he has yet to sketch out the retrenchment in tax breaks that he promises to prevent deficits from rising.
Nor has he been forthcoming about the trillions in spending cuts that would be needed to redeem his pledge of major deficit reduction, or about his promise to rein in Medicare or other government benefit programs before they go broke.
For Mr. Romney, who ran unsuccessfully for the nomination in 2008 after a single term as a moderate Republican governor of a liberal Democratic state, the evening sealed a long quest. After the speech, he joined his wife, five sons and their wives, and 15 of his 18 grandchildren to savor the moment.
The Associated Press and Politico.com contributed. First Published August 31, 2012 1:30 AM