STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

TAMPA, Fla. — Republican Mitt Romney has a message for the millions of Americans who voted for Democratic President Barack Obama: It’s OK to be disappointed.

The biggest moment of his political career at hand, Romney looked to appeal to the feelings of anxiety that are rippling through the electorate as the nation faces stubbornly high unemployment and fears about its future place in the world.

“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?” Romney said as he formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday night. “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.”

In 2008, Obama swept to victory with a message of hope and change — and as the first black person to earn the nomination of a major party, his candidacy was historic. He won in states like Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina, turning out African Americans and excited young people in record numbers.

To win, Romney needs to convince some of those voters that “hope and change” didn’t really work out — and that he is the man to fix the problem.

“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed,” he said. “But his promises gave way to disappointment and division.

“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,” Romney said.

Romney took the stage as 10:30 p.m., shouting to the roaring crowd, “Mr. Chairman and delegates, I accept your nomination for president of the United States.”

“Now is the time to restore the promise of America,” Romney said to a nation struggling with 8.3 percent unemployment and the slowest economic recovery in decades.

He told the crowd that a united American can unleash the economy.

Romney was introduced by Florida Senator Mark Rubio, who told the crowd he watched his first Republican convention in 1980 with his grandfather, who came to America from Cuba.

“For those of us who were born and raised in this country, it’s easy to forget how special America is,” Rubio said. “But my grandfather understood how different America is from the rest of the world, because he knew what life was like outside America.”

He called Romney “a devoted husband, father and grandfather. A generous member of his community and church.”

“Everywhere he’s been, he’s volunteered his time and talent to make things better for those around him,” Rubio said.

In a personal and impassioned speech, Rubio said, “No matter how you feel about President Obama, this election is about your future, not his. And it’s not simply a choice between a Democrat and a Republican.

“It”s a choice about what kind of country we want America to be.”

Romney’s remarks came after other speakers filled out a week-long portrait of the GOP nominee as a man of family and faith, savvy and successful in business, savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics, yet careful with a buck. A portion of the convention stage was rebuilt overnight so he would appear surrounded by delegates rather than speaking from a distance, an attempt to soften his image as a sometimes-stiff and distant candidate.

“He shoveled snow and raked leaves for the elderly. He took down tables and swept floors at church dinners,” said Grant Bennett, describing Romney’s volunteer work as an unpaid lay clergy leader in the Mormon church.

Following him to the podium, Ted and Pat Oparowski tenderly recalled how 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,” she said.

Beyond the heartfelt personal testimonials and political hoopla, the evening marked one of a very few opportunities any presidential challenger is granted to appeal to millions of voters in a single night.

Clint Eastwood, legendary Hollywood tough guy, put it more plainly. “When somebody does not do the job, you’ve got to let ’em go,” he said to the cheers of thousands in the packed convention hall.

The two-month campaign to come 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.

Shouts of “USA, USA” echoed in the convention hall as several Olympic medal winners came on stage, a reminder of Romney stepping in to help rescue the faltering 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

In an evening that blended the political and the personal, delegates saw a video in which his sons poked fun at him. “I can’t explain love,” Romney 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. Speaker after speaker testified to the help their received from Bain Capital, the private equity firm that he created — and that Democrats argue often took over firms, loaded them down with debt and then walked away with huge fees as they slid into bankruptcy.

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.

There was no shortage of Obama-bashing, though.

Former House Speaker Newt 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.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb 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.”


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