TAMPA (CBSMiami/NSF) — With a blend of presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s biography, a few parting shots at President Barack Obama and a surprise appearance by Clint Eastwood, the Republican National Convention in Tampa closed, even as Florida remained central to the presidential election.
It was a night studded with stars of the Florida Republican scene, a nod both to the critical role the state’s 29 electoral votes will play in the November election and the Latino populations that could dictate the outcome in several other swing states.
But the star of the night was still Romney, a former Massachusetts governor whose sometimes uneasy relationship with the party’s conservative base seemed to be replaced, at least for an evening, with an enthusiastic embrace.
In an acceptance speech that lasted almost 38 minutes and drew several resounding ovations, Romney promised to create 12 million new jobs and usher out what he framed as the divisive tone of Obama’s four years in the White House.
Most of Romney’s criticism of Obama, though, was couched as disappointment in a president who came to office four years ago as a popular sign of America’s promise only to prove unable to better manage the grinding and sputtering recovery that’s followed.
“America’s been patient,” Romney said. “Americans have supported this president in good faith. But today, the time has come to turn the page. Today the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us, and put aside the divisiveness and the recriminations — to forget about what might have been and to look ahead to what can be. Now is a time to restore the promise of America.”
Saying that “what America needs is jobs,” Romney cast himself as pragmatic and focused on the economy where Obama’s concerns were out of touch with the nation and its people.
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet,” Romney said mockingly. “My promise is to help you and your family.”
Romney ticked off five planks of his economic plan that he has referred to repeatedly in recent weeks: Pursuing energy independence, improving education, crafting and enforcing new free-trade agreements, pushing the federal budget back toward balance and slashing taxes and regulations affecting small businesses.
But Romney did not delve deeply into the nuts and bolts of his policy, a decision that is likely to keep him open to charges from Democrats that he has not leveled with the American people about his plans for the nation.
“With no new plans and evasion about his real plans, Mitt Romney leaves this convention no stronger than he came,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said.
Democrats also zeroed in on the similarities between Romney’s promise of 12 million in five steps with the “7-7-7” plan that now-unpopular Gov. Rick Scott ran on in 2012.
“Floridians have reason to be skeptical of a wealthy businessman promising jobs,” tweeted state Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg.
And voters in Florida, which is the largest state likely to be up for grabs on Election Day, were undoubtedly among the targets for the Romney campaign Thursday night. Former Gov. Jeb Bush blasted Obama for blaming the slow economy on the administration of his brother, former President George W. Bush, while U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was chosen to introduce Romney. Rubio also got in his digs at Obama.
“Our problem is not that he’s a bad person,” Rubio said. “Our problem is that he’s a bad president.”
The night largely focused on Romney’s biography. Speakers included people whom Romney helped as the lay leader of his Mormon church in Massachusetts, Olympians who highlighted Romney’s success in turning around the 2002 games in Salt Lake City and business partners who pushed back aggressively on Obama’s criticism of Romney’s tenure as the head of Bain Capital.
Also on hand was Clint Eastwood, whose surprise appearance at the convention included a dialogue with an empty chair that he said represented Obama. Eastwood then proceeded to grill the chair about Obama’s presidency.
“When somebody does not do the job, you got to let them go,” Eastwood said.
The crowd roared.
“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”