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TAMPA — Lifted by a show of Republican unity that once seemed so distant, Mitt Romney plunged into the presidential campaign’s final 67 days focused more than ever on jobs and the economy, and depicting President Barack Obama as a well-meaning but inept man who must be replaced.
“America has been patient,” he told the nation. “Americans have supported this president in good faith. But today, the time has come to turn the page.”
Obama, who will hold his own convention next week, served notice that he will use his powers of incumbency to make Romney’s mission hard. Obama planned to visit a Texas military base exactly two years after declaring the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, the war that haunts the last Republican president. This, as Democrats prepare to gather in Charlotte, N.C., for Obama’s convention.
Romney capped a high-energy night closing the Republican National Convention with a spirited and unusually personal speech infused with his family life, touching on his Mormon faith and recounting his youth. The cheers were loud and frequent, surely music to the ears of a candidate who struggled throughout the bruising primary season and beyond to bury doubts among many in his party that he was the authentic conservative in the field.
“Now is the time to restore the promise of America,” Romney declared to a nation struggling with unemployment and the slowest economic recovery in decades.
Polls suggest a to-the-wire campaign finish. The two men will spend the next 10 weeks in a handful of competitive states, none more important than Florida and Ohio, and meet in one-on-one debates where the stakes could hardly be any higher.
The campaign themes are mostly set. Romney depicts the president as a once-inspiring but disappointing figure who doesn’t understand job-creation or ordinary Americans’ frustrations. Democrats portray Romney as a man shifting ever rightward in the absence of core convictions, and a wealthy plutocrat who can’t relate to the middle class.
Hanging over the campaign is a big number: the nation’s 8.3 percent unemployment rate. It is Obama’s biggest impediment to a second term. Republicans seem to be banking on the notion that it will bring Obama down if Romney simply presents himself as a competent alternative.
Strikingly absent from Romney’s campaign, including the three-day convention in Tampa, were detailed explanations of how he would tame deficit spending while also cutting taxes and expanding the armed forces. He seems to be asking voters to trust his ability to create jobs and to make tough, unpopular decisions later.
Romney used his biggest moment yet in the spotlight, Thursday’s televised acceptance speech, to put a softer glow on his business record and to make short work of a conservative checklist that is now less important as he pursues swing voters.
He briefly hailed “the sanctity of life,” but did not mention “abortion,” illegal immigration, or even Ronald Reagan by his first name.
Romney’s speech also omitted many of the sharp barbs that he and his allies often throw at Obama.
“I wish President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed,” Romney said. “But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. ... We deserve better.”
He repeated his claim that Obama can’t lead America out its economic doldrums because he has no business background.
“Jobs to him are about government,” Romney said.
The relatively toned-down rhetoric was a shift from Romney’s taunt, only two weeks ago, of “Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago.”
Thursday’s gentler tone by Romney might simply be a nod to reality. Polls repeatedly find that voters find Obama more likable than Romney. Romney’s convention message was: It’s OK to like Obama even as you fire him.
Of course other top Republicans, and Romney himself, might revert to ripping into Obama, especially if they don’t see polls moving in Romney’s direction soon in the 10 or so states up for grabs.
Democrats hope their convention in Charlotte will, at a minimum, neutralize any GOP bounce out of Tampa.
Obama seemed equally willing to avoid bombastic rhetoric for a while. He told Time magazine he hoped his re-election would help end the political stalemate in Washington, much like “popping a blister.”
The president also said he wants to do a better job of explaining how his policies will help boost the economy.
Obama planned to campaign this weekend in Ohio, Colorado and Iowa.
Romney planned to campaign Friday in Virginia, Saturday in Ohio and both days in Florida before taking a couple of days to rest while Democrats start their quadrennial show in Charlotte.
Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008, and scheduled his 2012 convention there in hopes of repeating the unexpected feat. Romney’s path to victory is severely complicated unless he puts the state back in the GOP column.
Like any presidential challenger, Romney must do two things: Make voters willing to oust the incumbent, and make himself an acceptable replacement.
In Thursday’s address, Romney seemed to assume Americans have already cleared the first hurdle, weary of high unemployment.
“What America needs is jobs, lots of jobs,” Romney said. “To the majority of Americans who now believe that the future will not be better than the past, I can guarantee you this: if Barack Obama is re-elected, you will be right.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama’s visit to Fort Bliss on Friday will highlight administration efforts to support U.S. service members and their families, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those efforts include attempts to combat what Carney called “unseen wounds” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Romney avoided the topic of terrorism and wars in Islamic countries, which bedeviled President George W. Bush’s final years and helped launch Obama’s career. In his big speech Thursday, Romney did not mention Iraq, Afghanistan or terrorism.