In the most important speech of his political life, Mitt Romney touted his executive experience, his strong family, and a devotion to community born of deep religious faith as he accepted the Republican nomination for president.
Mr. Romney looked back to a more optimistic time – the day nearly four years ago when President Obama was inaugurated, when “hope and change had a powerful appeal.”
“But his promises gave way to disappointment and division,” said Romney, likening Mr. Obama to President Carter, who was defeated in 1980 after one term. “This isn't something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we can do something. And with your help, we will do something.”
With unemployment stuck at or above 8 percent for the past 42 months, the former governor of Massachusetts promised to create 12 million new jobs in the next four years. Romney outlined a five-step plan to achieve that goal: energy independence by 2020; job training and education; new trade agreements; deficit reduction; and promotion of small business.
Romney also opened up a little about his extended Mormon community in an apparent effort to strike a more personal tone and warm up his image with voters. He has long struggled on “likability” compared with Mr. Obama, who still scores well on that measure despite tepid job approval.
He downplayed his Mormon faith, as it makes some Americans uncomfortable; some evangelicals, a critical element of the Republican base, are outright hostile to his church though increasingly willing to accept that dimension of Romney in the name of defeating Obama. But at this pinnacle of Romney’s five-year quest for the GOP presidential nomination, he sought to make it a positive – the center of tight-knit family life, charity, and community-mindedness.
He spoke of finding kinship “and a wide circle of friends” through his church when he and his wife, Ann, moved to Boston.
“When we were new to the community, it was welcoming, and as the years went by, it was a joy to help others who had just moved to town or just joined our church,” Romney said.
“We prayed together,” he continued, “our kids played together, and we always stood ready to help each other out in different ways.”
Earlier in the evening, it was several friends who provided the moving, specific examples of how Romney served his Boston-area Mormon community as a bishop, or lay pastor, ministering to a gravely ill teenager, a family with a severely premature baby, or a situation as simple as an elderly woman who had fallen and needed to be looked in on.
“He had a listening ear and a helping hand,” said Grant Bennett, a decades-long friend from Belmont, Mass., and fellow Mormon. “Drawing on the skills and resources of those in our congregation, Mitt provided food and housing, rides to the doctor and companions to sit with those who were ill.”
Romney’s parents also figured prominently in his pitch for the presidency. But it was not just the accomplishments of his father, George Romney, a one-time auto executive and governor of Michigan, that he highlighted. In addition, he spoke of his father’s support for his mother, Lenore, when she ran for the Senate – a clear appeal to women voters.
“My dad was there for her every step of the way,” Romney said. “I can still see her saying in her beautiful voice, ‘Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?’ ”
Romney then segued into a list of the diverse, high-profile women who have spoken during the convention, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. And he noted all the women he put in top positions, both in government and in business, including his lieutenant governor in Massachusetts.
Romney’s founding of a highly successful business, Bain Capital – the primary source of a personal fortune totaling up to $250 million – also figured prominently in his speech.
“That business we started with 10 people has now grown into a great American success story,” he said, mentioning Staples and Sports Authority, among others.
Inevitably, Romney also went after the man he hopes to replace in the Oval Office.
“How many days have you woken up feeling that something really special was happening in America?” Romney said. “Many of you felt that way on Election Day four years ago. Hope and change had a powerful appeal.
“But tonight I'd ask a simple question,” he continued. “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.”