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Republican convention: Mitt Romney avoids pitfalls to leave Tampa on a high

Republican survives acceptance speech and sets out on trail hoping for a poll boost in race that remains as tight as ever

Mitt Romney flew out of Tampa yesterday – hours after delivering a competent and sometimes emotional acceptance speech at the close of his party's convention – to resume campaigning in a presidential race that remains wide open, with neither he nor Barack Obama yet thrilling the voters whose trust they must win.

A convention that at its start risked being thrown off course by Hurricane Isaac ended with nothing major having gone wrong (save perhaps for some bizarre stand-up on Thursday night by Clint Eastwood) and a speech by Mr Romney that served to introduce him to the nation and to make the case that Mr Obama has been a dud. "Now is the time to restore the promise of America," Mr Romney declared. As he headed first to a rally in Lakeland, Florida, and thereafter to inspect the damage from Isaac in coastal Louisiana, Mr Romney was buoyed not just by the balloons that fell from the ceilings of the Tampa arena but also by a sense of his party finally having united behind him and panting for the chance to oust Mr Obama. Now officially anointed as the nominee, he has access to a giant war chest of funds reserved for the election.

While Mr Romney was criticised by some for omitting any mention of America's soldiers in Afghanistan and for still not quite breaking the bonds of his reserve, the reviews of his speech were polite if not ecstatic. "I think it humanised him. I think it introduced him on a personal level," David Gergen, a CNN commentator said. "This speech had lots of heart, but it needed more soul. It needed more poetry."

Some among the delegates expressed relief when it was done, like Faith Marcke from Kansas who admitted she had watched him struggle as a speaker on the campaign trail this year. "Sometimes I want to say to him, 'Come on, fight!'" she admitted. "Well, he did tonight. I think he finally delivered."

Mr Romney threw down a gauntlet to the Democrats – who will host their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, next week – when he asserted here that Mr Obama had been a let-down, notably on the economy, and should be shown the door.

"I wish President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed," he said, taking an 'in-sorrow' approach. "But his promises gave way to disappointment and division... We deserve better."

The convention mostly avoided public conversation on divisive social issues like abortion and gay marriage. But while their message on the economy and on the shortfall of Mr Obama's promise is honed, the Republicans have difficult demographic gaps, notably in appealing to women and minorities. Yesterday Ann Romney attempted to argue that when it comes to women the obstacles will be overcome.

"I'm hearing from so many women who may not have considered voting for a Republican before, but said, 'It's time for the grown-up to come, the man who is going to take this seriously, who is going to take the future of our children very, very seriously'," she told CNN. Addressing his faith for the first time was a gamble for Mr Romney, the fruits of which are uncertain. "We were Mormons and growing up in Michigan; that might have seemed unusual or out of place but I really don't remember it that way," he said. "My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we went to."

Mr Obama, who will visit storm-damaged areas of Louisiana on Monday, will end his own convention next Thursday as he did in Denver four years ago, with a speech in a sports stadium able to seat 74,000.

Mr Romney was at his most devastating here when he suggested Americans were excited most about Mr Obama on the day they elected him and it has been downhill ever since. How Mr Obama overcomes that slight is not easy to see.