TAMPA, Fla. - Mitt Romney launched his fall campaign for the White House in a rousing Republican National Convention finale Thursday night, proclaiming America needs "jobs, lots of jobs" and promising to create 12 million of them in perilous economic times.
"Now is the time to restore the promise of America," Romney said in excerpts released in advance of his prime-time speech to a nation struggling with 8.3 percent unemployment and the slowest economic recovery in decades.
He muted his criticism in the advance excerpts of President Barack Obama, his quarry in a close and unpredictable race for the White House.
"I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed," he said. "But his promises gave way to disappointment and division."
"This isn't something we have to accept ," he said, appealing to millions of voters who say they are disappointed in the president yet haven't yet decided to cast their votes for his Republican challenger.
"Now is the moment when we can stand up and say, `I'm an American. I make my destiny. And we deserve better! My children deserve better! My family deserves better! My country deserves better!"
Romney's remarks came after other speakers filled out a week-long portrait of the GOP nominee as a man of family and faith, savvy and successful in business, savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics, yet careful with a buck. A portion of the convention stage was rebuilt overnight so he would appear surrounded by delegates rather than speaking from a distance, an attempt to soften his image as a sometimes-stiff and distant candidate.
"He shoveled snow and raked leaves for the elderly. He took down tables and swept floors at church dinners," said Grant Bennett, describing Romney's volunteer work as an unpaid lay clergy leader in the Mormon church.
Following him to the podium, Ted and Pat Oparowski tenderly recalled how Romney befriended their 14-year-old son David as he was dying of cancer. "We will be ever grateful to Mitt for his love and concern," she said.
Beyond the heartfelt personal testimonials and political hoopla, the evening marked one of a very few opportunities any presidential challenger is granted to appeal to millions of voters in a single night.
The two-month campaign to come includes other big moments - principally a series of one-on-one debates with Democrat Obama - in a race for the White House that has been close for months. In excess of $500 million has been spent on campaign television commercials so far, almost all of it in the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada.
Romney holds a fundraising advantage over Obama, and his high command hopes to expand the electoral map soon if post-convention polls in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and perhaps elsewhere indicate it's worth the investment. In a speech that blended the political and the personal, Romney talked in his excerpts of the importance of the love he felt from his parents and that he and his wife Ann have sought to give their children and grandchildren.
"All the laws and legislation in the world will never heal this world like the loving hearts and arms of mothers and fathers," he said.
As for Obama, he said, "Many Americans have given up on this president, but they haven't ever thought about giving up. Not on themselves, Not on each other. And not on America."
The economy is issue No. 1 in the race for the White House, and Romney presented his credentials as the man better equipped than the president to help create jobs. Speaker after speaker testified to the help their received from Bain Capital, the private equity firm that he created - and that Democrats argue often took over firms, loaded them down with debt and then walked away with huge fees as they slid into bankruptcy.
"When I was 37, I helped start a small company," he said. "That business we stated with 10 people has now grown into a great success story.
Romney knows the value of dollar, delegates were assured.
"When I told him about Staples, he really got excited at the idea of saving a few cents on paper clips," businessman Tom Stemberg said of the office supply store chain he founded with backing from Bain Capital, the private equity firm the presidential nominee co-founded.
There was no shortage of Obama-bashing, though.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, sharing the stage with his wife, Callista, said Obama was a president in the Jimmy Carter mold. Both "took our nation down a path that in four years weakened America's confidence in itself and our hope for a better future," he said.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said that "in the fourth year of a presidency, a real leader would accept responsibility" for failed policies. "President Obama hasn't done that."
Romney's aides did not say whether he would offer any new information on what has so far been a short-on-details pledge to reduce federal deficits and create 12 million jobs in a country where unemployment stands at 8.3 percent.
Romney would have to nearly double the current, anemic pace of job growth to achieve 12 million jobs over four years. That's conceivable in a healthy economy. In fact, Moody's Analytics, a financial research operation, expects nearly that many jobs to return in four years no matter who occupies the White House, absent further economic setbacks.
Romney's steps for achieving the employment growth include deficit cuts that he has not spelled out and a march toward energy independence that past presidents have promised but never delivered.
Romney has called for extension of tax cuts due to expire at all income levels at the end of the year, and has proposed an additional 20 percent cut in tax rates across the board. But he has yet to sketch out the retrenchment in tax breaks that he promises to prevent deficits from rising.
Nor has he been forthcoming about the trillions in spending cuts that would be needed to redeem his pledge of major deficit reduction, or about his promise to rein in Medicare or other government benefit programs before they go broke.
His vice presidential running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has called for remaking Medicare into a program in which the government would send seniors checks to be used to purchase health care insurance.
Under the current approach, beneficiaries pay premiums to the government, which then pays a part of all of their medical bills, and Democrats say the GOP alternative would expose seniors to ever-rising out-of-pocket costs.
Romney said in his fundraising email, as he often does in his speeches, "We believe in America, even though President Barack Obama's failed policies have left us with record high unemployment, lower take-home pay and the weakest economy since the great Depression."
Obama's surrogates missed no opportunity to criticize Romney, the convention proceedings or Ryan's own acceptance speech.
"He lied about Medicare. He lied about the Recovery Act," Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, emailed Democratic donors in a plea for cash.
"He lied about the deficit and debt. He even dishonestly attacked Barack Obama for the closing of a GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin - a plant that closed in December 2008 under George W. Bush."
For Romney, 65 and the first Mormon to become a major party presidential nominee, the evening sealed a triumph more than five years in the making. He ran unsuccessfully for the nomination in 2008 after a single term as a moderate Republican governor of a liberal Democratic state.
This year, as then, he was assailed as a convert to conservatism, and a questionable one at that, as Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and other rivals battled him for the nomination. With a superior organization and an outside group that spent millions criticizing his foes, Romney eventually emerged as the nominee in early spring.
His selection of Ryan, a young lawmaker admired by fellow conservatives for his understanding of the federal budget, reinforced Romney's appeal to the right.
The economy alone makes the race a close one, and polling makes clear that Romney enters the fall campaign with strengths and weaknesses.
In the most recent Associated Press-GfK poll, conducted Aug. 16-20, some 48 percent of registered voters said Romney would do a better job handling the economy, while 44 percent chose Obama. The Republican was also favored narrowly on job creation and held a 10-point advantage on the issue of reducing federal budget deficits.
Yet by 51-36, registered voters said Obama better understands the problems of people like them, that the president is a stronger leader and also a more honest and trustworthy candidate.