TAMPA, Fla. -- The star speakers of the night that gave Mitt Romney his long-sought Republican nomination symbolized the twin challenges of his quest to unseat President Barack Obama.
His wife and childhood sweetheart, Ann Romney, on Tuesday offered a heartfelt sketch of a man who has helped her through the trials of sickness and the travails of raising a family. That affectionate, soft-focus picture was followed by the tough love prescriptions of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who extolled Mr. Romney as a figure who would not shy from hard policy truths.
Mr. Christie has a tough-guy persona, but he had a tough act to follow as Mrs. Romney wowed the crowd with her memories of the man, she reminded them repeatedly, that she had met at a high school dance.
"I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a 'storybook marriage,' " Mrs. Romney said. "Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or breast cancer," she said, referring to her own health challenges.
When his turn came, the New Jersey governor talked soberly about the problems facing the country in terms that anticipated the policy criticisms the Republican ticket will face from here to November.
"It's time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House," Mr. Christie said.
Their contrasting, complementary approaches suggested the new ticket's goals of this convention and the campaign to follow: the introduction of the new, warmer image for a candidate often portrayed as a cold businessman, and the continuing assault on a president who has presided over a battered economy.
"Tonight, I want to talk to you from my heart about our hearts," Mrs. Romney said. "I want to talk not about what divides us, but what holds us together as an American family. I want to talk to you tonight about that one great thing that unites us. ...
"Tonight I want to talk to you about love."
Mrs. Romney repeatedly used her experience as a mother to seek empathy with women and mothers. That was an easy task in a hall filled with delegates who cheered her repeatedly. But it was also an effort to reach to female voters across America who, polls show, disproportionately favor her husband's opponent.
"It's the moms who have always had to work al little harder to make things right," she said. "I love you women."
As she spoke, the video screens behind her displayed images of her and her husband at different stages of their lives.
"You are the best of America," she said of the nation's mothers. "You are the hope of America; tonight we salute you and sing your praises.
"We're too smart to think that there are easy answers, but we're not dumb enough to think that there aren't better answers," she said of the nation's economic ills.
And the immediate better answer, she confidently suggested, was the guy she met at the dance.
"This is the man America needs," she said. "This is the man who will wake up every day with the determination to solve the problems that others say can't be solved, to fix what others say is beyond repair. This is the man who will work harder than anyone so that we can work a little less hard."
"I can't tell you what will happen over the next four years," she continued, but I can only stand here tonight, as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an American, and make you this solemn commitment: This man will not fail; This man will not let us down."
As she closed her speech, the hall filled with cheers as Mr. Romney walked from the wings to embrace her.
Mr. Christie stood in the keynote role that has enhanced the status of other politicians -- including an Illinois novice named Barack Obama at the Democrats' 2004 convention -- and he opened it with passages describing his own working class biography and his record as governor of New Jersey.
He spoke of his own mother as he began a call to make tough, unpopular choices.
"She spoke the truth -- bluntly, directly and without much varnish," he said. "I am her son.
"Our founding fathers had the wisdom to know that social acceptance and popularity is fleeting and that this country's principles needed to be rooted in strengths greater than the passions and emotions of the times. Our leaders today have decided it is more important to be popular, to do what is easy and say 'yes,' rather than to say no when 'no' is what's required.
"We believe in telling hard working families the truth about our country's fiscal realities," he said. "Telling them what they already know -- the math of federal spending doesn't add up. With $5 trillion in debt added over the last four years, we have no other option but to make the hard choices, cut federal spending and fundamentally reduce the size of government."
Acknowledging Democratic criticism of GOP calls for entitlement reform, in particular for the controversial Medicare proposals advanced by the new vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, he said, "We believe in telling seniors the truth about our overburdened entitlements. We know seniors not only want these programs to survive, but they just as badly want them secured for their grandchildren.
"Seniors are not selfish."
Mr. Ryan will have his turn in the spotlight today as he will introduce himself to the delegates and to the viewers beyond, the largest audience he has faced in his political career.
Mr. Christie never mentioned Mr. Obama by name, but he was withering in his characterization of administration policies.
"They believe seniors will always put themselves ahead of their grandchildren. So they prey on their vulnerabilities and scare them with misinformation for the cynical purpose of winning the next election," he said. "Their plan: whistle a happy tune while driving us off the fiscal cliff, as long as they are behind the wheel of power."
Mr. Christie's speech closed the first full day of the storm-shortened convention. Hours earlier, before the broadcast networks tuned in, the traditional roll of the states confirmed Mr. Romney's nomination and by acclamation, at the motion of Pennsylvania delegate Joanna Cruz of Montgomery County, the vice presidential nomination of Mr. Ryan.
Politics editor James O'Toole: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1562. First Published August 29, 2012 4:15 AM