“The excitement is palpable, even more so than the first few days,” said state Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, one of Georgia’s superdelegates. “It’s incredible. We’re coming out of here on a high.”
Romney declared “what America needs is jobs, lots of jobs,” and he said he has a plan to create 12 million of them.
“Now is the time to restore the promise of America,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, was on the floor of the convention hall with Loudermilk in the run-up to the nominee’s speech. Graves said he — along with all the convention attendees — is embracing Romney’s message.
“This year we have a clear choice: debt and deficits, or opportunity and prosperity,” he said.
Romney muted his criticism of President Barack Obama in excerpts released in advance of his prime-time speech.
“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed,” he said. “But his promises gave way to disappointment and division.”
“This isn’t something we have to accept,” he said, appealing to millions of voters who say they are disappointed in the president yet haven’t yet decided to cast their votes for his Republican challenger.
Romney was the last speaker in a four-hour line-up that included his son Craig Romney, Newt and Callista Gingrich and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
A dozen or so members of the Floyd County Republican Party gathered at their headquarters in downtown Rome to watch the gala event.
Ansley Saville, the director of fundraising, said she originally backed Gingrich, but her allegiance now is to Romney. “He’s going to bring God back into our nation,” she said. “I’ve had enough of people bowing to the minority when the majority wants to see family values.”
She said Romney’s Mormon faith is not an issue with her because its foundations are Christian.
“They have the 10 Commandments; that’s what the nation was built on. They believe in God and Jesus,” Saville said.
Party vice chairman Tom Saltino said the message of Romney and his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan is starting to resonate with the country.
“I feel we’re really getting to know Mitt Romney, and I can’t say enough about Paul Ryan,” Saltino said. “It has come together, and I think they’re going to make a great ticket.”
Graves said Ryan “took me under his wing” when Graves first took office in a 2010 special election, and helped him get a coveted place on the House appropriations committee. The two have become good friends, he said — a local connection the Rome contingent was happy to claim.
“I think he’s going to be the fire in this campaign,” Saville said.
The upcoming two-month campaign includes other big moments — principally a series of one-on-one debates with Democrat Obama — in a race for the White House that has been close for months.
In excess of $500 million has been spent on campaign television commercials so far, almost all of it in the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada.
Romney holds a fundraising advantage over Obama, and his high command hopes to expand the electoral map soon if post-convention polls in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and perhaps elsewhere indicate it’s worth the investment.
In a speech that blended the political and the personal, Romney talked in his excerpts 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.
“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.
The economy is issue No. 1 in the race for the White House, and 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.”
Romney’s aides scripted a closing night convention program that included a video tribute to Ronald Reagan, the two-term president revered still by conservatives. Delegates cheered when his voice filled the hall.
The program was designed, as well, to fill out a portrait of the GOP nominee as a successful businessman, last-minute savior for a troubled 2002 Olympics and a man of family and faith.
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.
Romney knows the value of dollar, delegates were assured.
“When I told him about Staples, he really got excited at the idea of saving a few cents on paper clips,” businessman Tom Stemberg said of the office supply store chain he founded with backing from Bain Capital, the private equity firm the presidential nominee co-founded.
Gingrich, sharing the stage with his wife, Callista, said Obama was a president in the Jimmy Carter mold. Both “took our nation down a path that, in four years, weakened America’s confidence in itself and our hope for a better future,” he said.
Bush said that “in the fourth year of a presidency, a real leader would accept responsibility” for failed policies. “President Obama hasn’t done that,” the former governor said.
Romney has called for the 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.
His vice presidential running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has called for remaking Medicare into a program in which the government would send seniors checks to be used to purchase health care insurance.
Under the current approach, beneficiaries pay premiums to the government, which then pays a part of all of their medical bills, and Democrats say the GOP alternative would expose seniors to ever-rising out-of-pocket costs.
Romney said in his fundraising email, as he often does in his speeches, “We believe in America, even though President Barack Obama’s failed policies have left us with record high unemployment, lower take-home pay and the weakest economy since the great Depression.”
Obama’s surrogates missed no opportunity to criticize Romney, the convention proceedings or Ryan’s own acceptance speech.
“He lied about Medicare. He lied about the Recovery Act,” Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, emailed Democratic donors in a plea for cash.
“He lied about the deficit and debt. He even dishonestly attacked Barack Obama for the closing of a GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin — a plant that closed in December 2008 under George W. Bush.”
For Romney, 65 and the first Mormon to become a major party presidential nominee, the evening sealed a triumph more than five years in the making. He ran unsuccessfully for the nomination in 2008 after a single term as a moderate Republican governor of a liberal Democratic state.
This year, as then, he was assailed as a convert to conservatism, and a questionable one at that, as Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and other rivals battled him for the nomination.
With a superior organization and an outside group that spent millions criticizing his foes, Romney eventually emerged as the nominee in early spring.
His selection of Ryan, a young lawmaker admired by fellow conservatives for his understanding of the federal budget, reinforced Romney’s appeal to the right.
The economy alone makes the race a close one, and polling makes clear that Romney enters the fall campaign with strengths and weaknesses.
In the most recent Associated Press-GfK poll, conducted Aug. 16-20, some 48 percent of registered voters said Romney would do a better job handling the economy, while 44 percent chose Obama. The Republican was also favored narrowly on job creation and held a 10-point advantage on the issue of reducing federal budget deficits.
Yet by 51-36, registered voters said Obama better understands the problems of people like them; that the president is a stronger leader and also a more honest and trustworthy candidate.
Polls also show Romney trails Obama among female voters and Hispanics, and the convention was scripted from beginning to end to try and cut into the GOP ticket’s disadvantages in those areas.
The first night of the GOP convention drew an estimated 22.3 million TV viewers, the vast majority over 55. The Nielsen ratings company said that figure was down from the 23.1 million who watched the first full night of the 2008 convention, which nominated John McCain. Nielsen said just 1.5 million of those who watched Tuesday’s convention session were in the 18-34 age group.
Staff writer Diane Wagner and Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt, Steve Peoples, Philip Elliott, Beth Fouhy, Thomas Beaumont and Julie Mazziotta in Tampa and Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this story.