Tampa, Fla. — Mitt Romney, who has spent much of the past decade running for president, accepted the Republican nomination on Thursday, launching his general-election campaign against President Obama with a promise of competency and a pledge to shrink the federal government.
Romney’s tone was forceful, but it was not harsh or especially partisan. “I wish President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed,” Romney told the crowd. “But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. This isn’t something we have to accept.”
Romney directly took on the depiction of his career as a shadowy endeavor. He did not want to run away from his past; he wanted to use his 40-minute turn on the national stage, in front of millions watching on television, to share a personal perspective.
“This is a small window for him to tell his story,” says Kevin Madden, a Romney adviser. “It is his time, away from the campaign distractions.”
For months, Obama has criticized Romney for his work at Bain Capital, a private-equity firm. In his remarks, Romney hit back at those charges with sharp language and blasted the president for knocking the company. As a second adviser tells me, “Romney wanted to talk about why Bain matters.”
“When I was 37, I helped start a small company,” Romney said, discussing his mid-career transition from Bain Consulting to Bain Capital. “Some of us had this idea that if we really believed our advice was helping companies, we should invest in companies; we should bet on ourselves.”
As he spoke about that period in his life, Romney narrated his ascent, and he took care to connect himself to small-business owners, not just the titans of Wall Street who invested in his enterprise. His experience, he said, may have yielded huge profits, but those profits were the product of hard work.
“That business we started with ten people has now grown into a great American success story,” Romney said. “Some of the companies we helped start are names you know,” such as the Sports Authority and Staples, “where, I’m pleased to see, the Obama campaign has been shopping.”
Earlier in the evening, Romney’s campaign released a series of web videos about Romney’s Bain tenure. Around 9 p.m., Bob White, the Romney campaign’s chairman and a former Bain Capital executive, spoke glowingly about Romney’s leadership at the firm and his faith in American ingenuity.
“It was a great way to teach a lesson about the importance of capital in our economy and why it’s important for entrepreneurs,” says Tony Fratto, a former adviser to President George W. Bush. “He knows his business better than anyone else, so it means a lot for him to explain it, on his own terms.”
On policy, Romney touted a five-point plan and predicted that it would create 12 million jobs. He highlighted his energy agenda, and his message was a pitch for the support of voters from energy-producing states. A Romney administration, he said, would take “full advantage” of oil and gas.
Romney also touched on education. The former Massachusetts governor embraced parental choice, a popular conservative plank. His platform includes linking federal education funds to individual students. “When it comes to the school your child will attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance,” he said.
In a nod to the influence of the Tea Party, Romney said that as president he would cut the deficit and “put America on track to a balanced budget.” As Romney spoke, a “debt clock” loomed under a section of upper-deck seats, signaling the convention’s theme of fiscal courage and budget reform.
Turning to trade policy, Romney had a warning for China and other nations that have caused trouble for American manufacturers. “When nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences,” he said.
Many of Romney’s proposals were mentioned only briefly. The conservative thrust was evident, but not emphasized. When he was governor, critics on the right were wary of his health-care reforms, but in Tampa, Romney reminded the audience that he is, as ever, an opponent of Obamacare.