Since he began his long quest for the White House, Mitt Romney has been running on his résumé. It was not until his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination that he chose to stress his biography, seeking to reassure voters still wary of him, his wealth and his Mormon faith.
Mr. Romney’s life story permeated a speech in which he called on Americans feeling let down after voting for President Barack Obama four years ago to trust the former Massachusetts governor to do better. Instead of hope and change, he promised jobs.
Mocking Mr. Obama for creating inflated expectations, Mr. Romney made voters a less intoxicating but perhaps more realizable proposition: “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”
And to those considering giving the President a second chance, Mr. Romney warned, in his Thursday night address: “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.”
Amid one of the most negative presidential races in recent memory, Mr. Romney’s attacks on the President and his record were not as harsh as many he has levelled on the campaign trail. But their cumulative impact was to suggest a failed presidency. “I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division,” Mr. Romney said. “Today the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us.”
Mr. Romney’s former business partners at Bain Capital appeared at the convention to revisit his successes in rescuing struggling companies through the Boston-based private equity firm where he made his fortune. (There was no mention of his failures.)
A team of former Olympians thanked Mr. Romney for “saving” the Salt Lake City Winter Games and expressed their belief in his ability to “turn the country around.”
There have been many such testimonials before. But the emphasis on Mr. Romney’s faith and his emotional tribute to his parents showed voters more of what goes on inside a candidate who had previously refused to be “personalized like a piece of meat.”
“My mom and dad were married for 64 years. And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist, because every day Dad gave Mom a rose, which he put on her bedside table,” a tearful Mr. Romney said of his mother, Lenore. “That's how she found out what happened on the day my father died …There was no rose.”
It was a poignant moment. Mr. Romney worshipped his father, George, who sought the Republican nomination in 1968. His son had longed to give the speech his father never got to. On Thursday night, he finally could.
As he trails Mr. Obama by double digits among female voters, Mr. Romney channelled his late mother, whose 1970 Senate campaign he helped run: “I can still hear her saying, in her beautiful voice: ‘Why should women have any less say than men about the great decisions facing our nation?’”
The first Mormon to top a presidential ticket, Mr. Romney also opened a window onto his faith, one that he had kept all but closed. In a party whose evangelical Christian base has often dismissed Mr. Romney’s religion as a cult, it is unlikely he would have decided to do so now unless the polls told him the all-business guise was not working. One by one, members of his church testified to his character, kindness and compassion. Grant Bennett, who served as Mr. Romney’s assistant when he was a pastor, spoke of the GOP nominee’s tirelessness in tending to the “fatherless and widows in their affliction” and lending “a listening ear and helping hand.”
Pam Finlayson, a church member, recalled Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, bringing over Thanksgiving dinner to ease her burden as she coped with a sick child.
“It seems to me when it comes to loving our neighbour, we can talk about it, or we can live it,” a Ms. Finlayson offered. “The Romneys live it every single day.”
In a convention that will not be remembered for its soaring speeches or blockbuster ratings, there was one moment that will be replayed endlessly on TV in coming days: The surprise appearance of Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood on stage to endorse Mr. Romney. Recalling the night of Mr. Obama’s 2008 victory, the 82-year-old actor said: “Oprah was crying, I was crying. I haven’t cried that hard since I found out there are 23 million unemployed people in this country.”
He overshot the mark by 10 million (the 23 million figure includes the underemployed). But he may have done more to boost Mr. Romney’s poll numbers than the dozens of other speakers who took to the stage in Tampa, including the nominee himself.