TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney accepted the Republican nomination for president here Thursday and delivered a withering critique of President Barack Obama's first term while claiming the qualifications to turn the economy around.
The former Massachusetts governor, whose nomination came after his second run for president, used his prime-time speech before a national audience to portray Obama as a failure and himself as a success, both in his private and public jobs. And he sketched an all-American personal background on a night when friends, family members, Olympic athletes, actor and director Clint Eastwood, and others took the stage at the Tampa Bay Times Forum to tell stories of his compassion and business acumen.
Romney made direct appeals to those who voted for Obama in 2008 and said that after the last four years, the nation's problem was simple.
“What America needs is jobs,'' he said. “Lots of jobs.”
Romney, 65, clinched the nomination months ago, and he and the president have been campaigning relentlessly across swing states like this one that are expected to decide what polls show now is an extremely close race. Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, are planning to campaign here and in Ohio over the next few days, while the president will visit key states before heading to Charlotte, N.C., next week for the Democratic National Convention.
Romney, whose speech closed the Republican National Convention, said he had wanted Obama to succeed. because he wanted America to succeed but that Obama's promises “gave way to disappointment and division.”
Hope and change, he said, referring to the slogan of Obama's first campaign, “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? 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.”
Romney vowed to repeal the 2010 health care bill — something he would need Congress' help to do — and said his own plan to create 12 million jobs includes making the nation energy independent, improving job training, forging new trade agreements, cutting the deficit and reducing business taxes.
The Obama campaign challenged many of the assertions in Romney's speech Thursday and said the Republican “wants to take us back to the failed policies of the Bush administration.”
The president had cut taxes for small businesses 18 times, while Romney's economic plan would cut taxes by $5 trillion to benefit the wealthiest Americans, the campaign said.
Eastwood roused the crowd with his “surprise” and unique appearance. Though he's from the movie industry, his remarks appeared to be the only ones this week that were unscripted.
Eastwood called the unemployment rate a national disgrace and said “it may be time for someone else to come along and solve the problem.”
“We own this country,'' he said, calling politicians “employees of ours.”
“When someone does not do the job, you gotta let 'em go,” Eastwood said.
Eastwood sometimes spoke to an empty chair next to him on stage meant to represent Obama.
Romney talked about his youth in Michigan, where his father, George, ran American Motors and served as governor, and said that the family might have stood out as Mormons. But he said his friends “cared more about what sports teams we follow than what church we went to.”
Making an appeal to female voters, he quoted his mom as saying that women's voices should matter as much as those of men.
“I wish she could have been here at the convention and heard leaders like Gov. Mary Fallin, Gov. Nikki Haley, Gov. Susana Martinez, Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,” he said.
Romney said the investment company he started helped build companies that are thriving today and said Obama was elected four years ago without the basic qualification of having private business experience. Jobs to Obama, Romney said, were about the government.
Romney fired up the conservatives with pledges to protect the sanctity of life and freedom of religion.
“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet,” Romney said. “My promise is to help you and your family.”
Fallin called Romney's speech inspiring and said he “made the case to Americans of all political stripes that our country needs a change in direction and that he has the vision, experience and determination to get our country back on the right track. Mitt Romney knows it's the power of the people — not the federal government — that creates prosperity.”