Mitt Romney rode the applause of a packed Tampa arena last night accepting his party’s nomination as candidate for president and laying out his case for why America should vote for him over Barack Obama, who, he said, had won its trust in 2008 on a pledge of change and hope that “gave way to disappointment and division”.
In an address that lacked soaring rhetoric and on occasion seemed disjointed in the way his speeches often do, Mr Romney strove equally to undo the impression that he is wooden and removed from ordinary life and to reassure voters that he was the right person, along with running mate Paul Ryan, to “restore the promise of America”.
He was arguably at his most effective when he suggested, with an eye on undecided and independent voters, that Mr Obama did not deserve a second term because for all the thrill of his victory four years ago he had been a let-down in the Oval Office. “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,” he declared, prompting a roar of approval in the hall.
In the oddest piece of convention stagecraft in recent memory Mr Romney came onto the stage moments after the Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood had hogged 12 minutes of precious television primetime (his slot had only been five) indulging in a sometimes off-colour dining club act in which he talked to an empty chair as if it was Mr Obama and suggested the president was telling him to perform some anatomically impossible act.
Speaking as if he had neglected to take his medications or ingested too many, Mr Eastwood delighted many on the floor with his irreverence. However, members of the Romney family and Mr Ryan himself in the VIP box looked on stony-faced and television pundits were later at a loss to explain why the organisers had let it happen.
Rating the performance of Mr Romney was more difficult; he gave exactly the kind of speech he always does, lacking in rhythm yet possibly effectively because of some inbuilt humility. But where he lingered on subjects like his love story with Ann, his wife, his love of his father and of his own children, Mr Romney went further than he is accustomed to do and viewers may have seen something appealing. He seemed close to choking up at least twice, including when he recalled the wonder of waking up with his wife to find “a pile of kids asleep in our room”.
He for the first time spoke publicly of the importance to him of his Mormon faith. One of the most moving moments of the night came when a couple, Ted and Pat Oparowski, members of his Mormon congregation, spoke from the podium of how Mr 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,” Mrs Oparowski offered.
While Mr Romney roused the delegates with promises to cut the deficit, achieve energy independence by drilling for oil, create 12 million new jobs and negotiate free trade agreements, there was little in his speech that could termed a policy vision. He meanwhile drew laughs at his rival’s expense, notably when he said that the President “promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans. And to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”
But Faith Marcke, a delegate and rental landlady from Kansas, was among the faithful in Tampa who left the convention apparently satisfied. In the campaign year so far Mr Romney had struggled with his public speaking, she agreed. “Sometimes I want to say to him, ‘come on, fight!’ Well, he did tonight. I think he finally delivered”.
The table had been set for Mr Romney by speakers who for three nights had taunted Mr Obama over the economy and, above all, for a comment he made implying that government, not private enterprise, is the best engine for jobs. Last night’s line-up included Jeb Bush and Florida senator Marco Rubio. But the rubber-stamping in Tampa of the party platform exposed a rightwards lurch from four years ago that belied claims of party unity.
Among the most striking items in the 50-page document was an aggressive defence of gun-ownership that even rejected calls that have come in the wake of recent massacres in Wisconsin and Colorado for new limits on the size of gun clips for privately owned weapons.
“We oppose legislation that is intended to restrict our Second Amendment rights by limiting the capacity of clips or magazines,” the platform says. It also gave a nod to priorities of the libertarian Ron Paul with a promise to audit the Federal Reserve annually and to consider tying the dollar to precious metals. Also jarring is language calling for a ban on abortions under any circumstances, including rape, which clearly departs from the stance of the ticket.
This morning, Mr Romney and Mr Ryan leave Tampa hoping for a bump in the polls to begin campaigning again first here in Florida this morning about 45 miles to the northwest and alter in the day in Virginia.
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