TAMPA (CBSMiami) – It was the moment the Republican faithful have been waiting for all week.
Thursday night, Mitt Romney launched his fall campaign for the White House with a rousing, remarkably personal speech to the Republican National convention and a prime-time TV audience, proclaiming that America needs “jobs, lots of jobs” and promising to create 12 million of them in perilous economic times.
“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.
Often viewed as a distant politician, Romney made a press-the-flesh entrance into the hall, walking slowly down one of the convention aisles and shaking hands with dozens of delegates. The hall erupted in cheers when he reached the stage and waved to his cheering, chanting supporters before beginning to speak.
“I accept your nomination for president,” he said, to more cheers. Then he pivoted into personal details of family life, recounting his youth as a Mormon, the son of parents devoted to one another, then a married man with five rambunctious sons.
He choked up at least twice, including when he recalled how he and wife Ann would awake to find “a pile of kids asleep in our room.”
He was unstinting in his criticism of President Barack Obama, his Democratic quarry in a close and uncertain race for the White House, and drew cheers when he vowed to repeal Obama’s signature health care law.
“This president can tell us it was someone else’s fault. This president can tell us that the next four years he’ll get it right. But this president cannot tell us that you are better off today than when he took office,” Romney declared.
“I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began his presidency with an apology tour,” he said, then accusing the incumbent of failing to support Israel while exercising patience with its arch-enemy, Iran.
South Florida Senator Marco Rubio introduced Romney with a primetime speech of his own, recalling his own life as the son of Cuban exile parents who came to the U.S. to provide a better life for their children.
“A few years ago during a speech, I noticed a bartender behind a portable bar at the back of the ballroom. I remembered my father who had worked so long as a banquet bartender. He was grateful for the work he had, but that’s not the life he wanted for us,” said Rubio. “He stood behind a bar in the back of the room all those years, so one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room. That journey, from behind that bar to behind this podium, goes to the essence of the American miracle… that we’re exceptional not because we have more rich people here. We’re special because dreams that are impossible anywhere else, come true here.”
Clint Eastwood, legendary Hollywood tough guy, put the case for ousting Obama plainly moments before Romney made his entrance. “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.
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.
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.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)