TAMPA, Fla. -- Promising to restore the economy and a unite a divided country, Mitt Romney claimed what eluded him four years ago and his father a generation earlier.
The former Massachusetts governor accepted the nomination for president Thursday night at the Republican National Convention, charging that the promises of President Barack Obama had proved hollow. He argued that his personal and business background equip him to lead the country to a better future.
The nominee, the son of onetime Michigan Gov. George Romney, characterized the general election campaign as presenting a fundamental choice on the future of America.
"Today, the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us," he said, according to a text distributed by his campaign. "To put aside the divisiveness and the recriminations, to forget about what might have been, and to look ahead to what can be."
But he wasn't ready to put the last four years aside just yet, as he assailed the Obama administration as a failed and fumbling steward of the nation's economy.
"How many days have you woken up feeling that something really special was happening in America?" he asked.
"Many of you felt that way on Election Day four years ago. '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? 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."
Repeating the broad prescriptions of his standard stump speech, Mr. Romney offered a five-point program for an economic recovery that he said would create 12 million jobs. He called for energy independence by "taking full advantage of our oil and coal and gas and nuclear and renewables"; educational choice; new trade agreements; deficit cutting through a balanced budget," and supporting small business.
"We will champion small businesses, America's engine of job growth. That means reducing taxes on business, not raising them. It means simplifying and modernizing the regulations that hurt small business the most. And it means that we must rein in the skyrocketing cost of health care by repealing and replacing Obamacare."
Again targeting the incumbent he hopes to oust in November, he said, "To the majority of Americans who now believe that the future will not be better than the past, I can guarantee you this: If Barack Obama is re-elected, you will be right.
He said he was running to help create a better future. "A future where everyone who wants a job can find one. Where no senior fears for the security of their retirement. An America where every parent knows that their child will get an education that leads them to a good job and a bright horizon."
Republicans in general and Mr. Romney in particular have faced a persistent polling deficit among women, and he added his voice to a refrain during the convention that included tributes by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan to their mothers.
"My mom and dad were true partners," said Mr. Romney, "a life lesson that shaped me by everyday example. 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?' "
Mr. Romney sought to rebut the unrelenting criticism he faced -- from his Republican rivals in the primaries and the Obama campaign today -- over his background as a venture capitalist with Bain Capital and the layoffs that sometimes followed his firm's leveraged buyouts. He pointed to the sunnier, job-creating side of the Bain Capital record.
"That business we started with 10 people has now grown into a great American success story," he 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."
On the campaign trail, Mr. Romney, a devout Mormon, seldom discussed his religion. But through the night's invocation, testimonials from associates among Massachusetts Mormons, and his speech, he presented a human side to a faith unfamiliar to many Americans and one still viewed with skepticism by some evangelical Christians.
Describing his life in Boston as a young husband and student, Mr. Romney said, "Like a lot of families in a new place with no family, we found kinship with a wide circle of friends through our church. When we were new to the community it was welcoming and as the years went by, it was a joy to help others who had just moved to town or just joined our church. We had remarkably vibrant and diverse congregations of all walks of life and many who were new to America. We prayed together, our kids played together and we always stood ready to help each other out in different ways."
Mr. Romney's appearance was the sequel to still more speakers' praise. Former Olympians paraded onto the stage, remembering his turnaround role in rehabilitating a foundering Salt Lake City Olympics.
Actor-director Clint Eastwood offered an imaginary conversation with Mr. Obama, and then Mr. Romney was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio, the host state senator and Tea Party champion who had been considered one of the contenders to join Mr. Romney on the GOP ticket.
Another earlier speaker was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who with his wife, Callista, formed a tag-team duo, speaking alternately with one more indictment of the Obama administration.
Mr. Gingrich was one of the GOP contenders vanquished by Mr. Romney in his disciplined, amply funded march to the Tampa podium. He made his first bid for the White House in 2008. In that failed effort, he invested heavily in the Iowa caucuses but was rewarded with a stinging second place as a grass-roots tide propelled the underfunded campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to first place. He dropped from the race after the first few contests.
Mr. Romney entered the 2012 competition as the front-runner, albeit one dogged by conservative suspicion over his political evolution on the issue of abortion and his championing of a Massachusetts health care law widely seen as the template for the federal legislation he regularly promises to repeal.
In retrospect, his path to the nomination seems inevitable, and his campaign worked throughout the last year to nurture that air of inevitability. But he overcame significant hurdles along the way. After being mistakenly named as a narrow winner in the Iowa caucuses -- it would emerge weeks later that former Sen. Rick Santorum had actually won -- he easily captured the New Hampshire primary despite sharp criticism of his business record from Mr. Gingrich and other rivals.
The former Georgia congressman seemed to put Mr. Romney on the ropes with a breakthrough victory in South Carolina. But the Romney campaign came back with a slashing, free-spending assault on Mr. Gingrich in Florida.
That seemed to seal the deal, but a string of upsets allowed Mr. Santorum to get back in the hunt, once again placing the front-runner's bid in jeopardy. Mr. Romney's continuing spending advantage, along with missteps by Mr. Santorum, allowed him to eke out a narrow win in his native Michigan, then another close victory in Ohio. Mr. Romney finally dispelled any doubts on who would prevail in the GOP competition with an comfortable victory in Wisconsin, a campaign in which he was endorsed by, and bonded with the man he would choose as his running mate.
The nomination he accepted Thursday night culminates a years-long political marathon. Propelled by the cheers of the Tampa crowd, he now heads into a general election sprint in a race that has been marked by consistently tight polling with little real movement in the candidates' margins for months.
The latest average of national surveys showed Mr. Obama leading by the slender margin of 46.8 percent to 45.7 percent. At this point, Mr. Obama appears to hold a more significant advantage in the electoral college based on a series of mostly narrow leads in key battleground states.
Whether this convention will produce a polling upsurge for the Republican is uncertain, but its afterglow will almost immediately have to compete with the Democrats' meeting in Charlotte, N.C., which is scheduled to culminate next Thursday with Mr. Obama's outdoor acceptance speech.
Politics Editor James O'Toole: email@example.com First Published August 31, 2012 4:00 AM