TAMPA, Fla. — The Republican National Convention is finally in full-throated roar, cheering presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s name at every turn in a long-sought show of unity and mocking the man he is out to defeat in November.
A soft-sided portrayal of the Republican candidate as husband and father, painted by his wife on the stage in a direct appeal to women, combined with a parade of gleeful Obama-bashers Tuesday as the GOP seized its moment after days of worry about the hurricane that simultaneously roared ashore in Louisiana — well out of sight of the gathering, and mostly out of mind for the night.
The convention’s keynote speaker, the unpredictable New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, issued a broad indictment of Democrats as “disciples of yesterday’s politics” who “whistle a happy tune” while taking the country off a fiscal cliff.
“It’s time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House,” he said. “Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good-paying private-sector jobs again in America.”
Romney made his debut at the convention two days before his own speech, rousing the crowd into cheers as he took the stage briefly to share a kiss with his wife after she spoke. Ann Romney’s prime-time speech was in large measure an outreach to female voters as she declared her husband “will not let us down” if elected president.
Her tone was intimate as she spoke about the struggles of working families: “If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It’s how it is, isn’t it? It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right.”
Mrs. Romney’s mission was clear. For all the hundreds of speeches he’s given and the years he’s spent reaching this moment, Romney remains largely inscrutable, a man in a business suit whose core remains a mystery to most of the nation. And he consistently lags behind President Barack Obama among women in polls.
Republicans have a little more than two months to change that and build upon his greatest perceived strength, as an economic fixer, in an election that by all indications is tight. The list of speakers is to be topped tonight by Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, before the candidate himself speaks Thursday night to bring down the curtain-closing balloons.
Republicans uncorked the anti-Obama rhetoric from the outset Tuesday. The Democratic president has “never run a company,” said Reince Priebus, the Republican chairman. “He hasn’t even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand.” House Speaker John Boehner spoke of an America with “no government there to hold your hand. Just a dream and the desire to do better. President Obama doesn’t get this. He can’t fix the economy because he doesn’t know how it was built.”
Romney was affirmed as the nominee in a suspenseless roll call of state delegations. He received 2,061 votes to 190 for his nearest roll-call rival, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a preordained victory sealed months ago when the former Massachusetts governor prevailed in a bruising series of primaries and caucuses. Rick Santorum, his most serious competitor at the height of the primary season, closed ranks Tuesday night, at least to a point. He slammed Obama for turning the American dream of freedom into a “nightmare of dependency” in a speech focused on welfare reform and mentioning Romney only at the end.
Paul, the iconoclastic libertarian who has a passionate following but never won a primary race, did not go so quietly, or at least his supporters didn’t. They chanted and booed after the convention adopted rules they opposed but were powerless to block. “Shame on you,” some of his supporters chanted from the floor.
Paul stopped short of a full endorsement of Romney and did not get a speaking slot. But his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a tea party favorite, will address the convention tonight.
Polls find the economy is overwhelmingly the dominant issue in the race and voters narrowly favor Romney to handle it. In an AP-GfK poll taken Aug. 16-20, some 48 percent of registered voters said they trust Romney more on economic issues, to 44 percent for Obama. However, a Washington Post-ABC News in the days immediately before the convention found that 61 percent of registered voters said Obama was more likable, while 27 percent said Romney.
Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Brian Bakst, Thomas Beaumont, Tamara Lush, Brendan Farrington, Julie Mazziotta, Steve Peoples, Kasie Hunt and Philip Elliott in Florida and Stephen Ohlemacher, Alicia A. Caldwell and Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.