TAMPA, Fla. - Mitt Romney's acceptance speech won't find its way into any future pantheon of memorable convention addresses, but the Republican accepted his party's nomination with remarks that will help him with swing voters in two important ways.
Facing grim polling data about his personal appeal, the usually detached Romney finally offered a glimpse of raw emotion as he discussed his late parents and spoke of his love for his own five sons. Choking up on two occasions, Romney revealed a personal side his aides have been trying to find since he began running for president over 5 years ago.
Further, the GOP standard bearer articulated some of the most compelling lines of attack on President Barack Obama he's yet to deliver. Romney, grasping for an edge against a history-making incumbent who scores poorly on the economy but remains well-liked, seemed to find a new implicit message for voters: You redeemed America's promise in 2008, it felt good, but it's ok to let him go.
Romney doesn't have a silver tongue. The roof of the convention hall here was never in danger of being brought down by the crowd. But he showed that he was capable of delivering a solid but not spectacular speech with the pressure on. The broad consensus among Romney-watchers: about as good as the CEO-turned-governor was going to do.
"It had to be the speech of his political career," said Kevin DeMenna, an Arizona delegate.
What was noticeably lacking, though, was much of an explanation of his policies and how they'd help improve the lives of Americans. This was an introduction more of Romney the man than any attempt to sell a recovery plan.
It may be enough to give him a boost against Obama, but with the Democrats convening in Charlotte next week, Romney's immediate bounce could be short-lived. What Romney officials and other senior GOP officials hope they did this week was cross an acceptability threshold with voters who still have hazy impressions of the Republican.
Yet, befitting a campaign that has been marred by gaffes, Romney's evening wasn't without an awkward moment. The campaign distracted from their own candidate's big night and the convention finale by sending the 82-year-old Clint Eastwood on stage in between a touching video about Romney and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's stirring introducing of the nominee. Eastwood ad-libbed a bizarre stand-up routine in which he pretended to have a dialogue with Obama, as played by an empty stool on stage. Few veteran convention-watchers could recall such an odd performance.
"Bill Clinton introducing Michael Dukakis just went to a distant second place as a bizarre moment," emailed NBC's Tom Brokaw, who attended his first convention in 1968.
What Romney advisers hope will be better remembered by up-for-grabs voters were the parts of the former Massachusetts governor's speech that showed a beating heart behind the candidate's stiff exterior.
Romney's voice caught when he told how his father brought his mother a single rose every morning of their marriage until George Romney passed away.
"That's how she found out what happened on the day my father died - she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose," Romney said, adding that his father supported his mother in full when she ran for the Senate.
He was as emotional in discussing his own children, channeling most every empty-nester in his evocation of the sense of absence he feels with his boys grown.
"[I]f you ask Ann and I what we'd give, to break up just one more fight between the boys, or wake up in the morning and discover a pile of kids asleep in our room," he said, his voice heavy, "Well, every mom and dad knows the answer to that."
The personal display relieved many Republicans who've been waiting for Romney to let the electorate see who he is past the perfectly-coiffed hair and magazine-gorgeous family.
"For those of us here at the convention we learned more about Mitt Romney tonight than we have for the last four years," exclaimed Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) following the address.
What didn't necessarily get the arena crowd stirred up, but may have been effective with the political middle at home was Romney's sorrowful critique of the incumbent.
Looking beyond the conservatives in front of him, the Republican posed what he called "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?"
And he added: "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."
With this, Romney was seeking to relieve voters of any obligation they may have about Obama.
And even when he sharpened his criticism, Romney went after the president not on ideological grounds but for not being sufficiently attuned to practical demands.
"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet," Romney said, reminding voters of one of the incumbent's loftier pieces of 2008 oratory. "My promise is to help you and your family."
It was no barn-burner, but Romney doesn't have one of those in him. And he ultimately may be too remote and his resume and policies too vulnerable to attack for him to unseat Obama. But if Romney is to finally forge a connection with voters, to become an acceptable alternative to the incumbent they want to succeed, he started that effort Thursday night.
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