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Mitt Romney Makes His Case For Change


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. During his acceptance speech last night at the Republican convention, Mitt Romney told a story about his father. He said his father gave his mother a rose every day, and left it by the bed. She found out he had died on the day the rose did not appear.

INSKEEP: That was one of many moments in a speech designed to humanize the Republican candidate, and build a case against President Obama. And on the last night of the Republican convention in Tampa, almost everything went according to plan. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: For a campaign famous for keeping events buttoned-down and under control, last night had an awfully big detour from the script.



CLINT EASTWOOD: Save a little for Mitt.


LIASSON: It was Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood, the mystery guest chosen to surprise and delight the crowd; who ended up, instead, causing heartburn for the candidates and their wives. Eastwood delivered a weird, rambling, 15-minute monologue, where he turned to an empty chair and pretended to interview an invisible Barack Obama - including exchanges of implied vulgarity.

EASTWOOD: And then, I- I - I just wondered, all these promises - and then I, I wondered about - you know, when the - what? What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. He can't do that to himself.


EASTWOOD: You're crazy. You're absolutely crazy.


EASTWOOD: You're getting as bad as Biden.


LIASSON: The cameras caught Mrs. Romney and Mrs. Ryan looking stricken, like the mother of the bride listening to a drunken wedding toast. It was a bizarre, comic detour from the main task of the evening: humanizing Mitt Romney.

There were testimonials from people who had worked with Romney on the Olympics and at Bain Capital; and emotional tributes from members of Romney's Mormon congregation, describing how he had helped them in times of personal crisis. It was meant to counter the Obama campaign's caricature of Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat. Florida Se. Marco Rubio introduced the nominee.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Mitt Romney's success in business is well-known. But we've also learned that he's so much more than that. Mitt Romney's a devoted husband, a father, a grandfather, a generous member of his community and church, a role model for younger Americans like myself. Everywhere he's been, he's volunteered his time and talent to make things better for those around him.

LIASSON: With every pitch for Romney, there was a poke at President Obama.

RUBIO: Our problem with President Obama isn't that he's a bad person, OK? By all accounts he, too, is a good husband and a good father - and thanks to lots of practice, a good golfer.


RUBIO: Our problem is that he's a bad president.

LIASSON: Then it was Romney's turn.

MITT ROMNEY: Mr. Chairman and delegates, I accept your nomination for president of the United States.


LIASSON: Romney has been running for president for more than six years. But he still lacks a clear identity, for many voters. Last night's speech was his best chance to tell his own story.

ROMNEY: Americans have a choice, a decision. To make that choice, you need to know more about me, and where I'd lead our country.

LIASSON: In a recent CBS News poll, 41 percent of voters said Romney understands the problems of people like them. Fifty percent said he did not. Romney needs to correct that impression, and he needs to close the gender gap that Barack Obama has with women voters. So last night, he spoke about his wife's sacrifices at home, and his mother's Senate campaign; and his own efforts to help women.

ROMNEY: As governor of Massachusetts, I chose a woman lieutenant governor, a woman chief of staff. Half of my Cabinet and senior officials were women. And in business, I mentored and supported great women leaders who went on to run great companies.

LIASSON: Speaking more in sorrow than in anger, Romney told voters who had supported Barack Obama in 2008 that they had permission to make a change. He said four years ago he, too, had wanted the president to succeed.

ROMNEY: 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: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now that he's President Obama?


ROMNEY: 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.


LIASSON: Romney laid out a bill of particulars against Mr. Obama and his record.

ROMNEY: In the richest country in the history of the world, this Obama economy has crushed the middle class. Family income has fallen by $4,000. But health insurance premiums are higher. Food prices are highe. Utility bills are higher. And gasoline prices? They've doubled. Today, more Americans wake up in poverty than ever before.

LIASSON: Romney asked the challenger's classic question: Are you better off today than four years ago?

ROMNEY: This president can ask us to be patient. This president can tell us it was someone else's fault. This president can tell us that the next four years, he'll get it right. But this president cannot tell us that you're better off today, than when he took office.


ROMNEY: America's been patient. Americans have supported this president, in good faith. But today, the time has come to turn the page.

LIASSON: The Romney campaign's original premise was that voters were ready to fire the president, and Romney just needed to be an acceptable alternative. But when he picked Paul Ryan, he seemed to be signaling that his campaign had to be more than that; that it had to be about big ideas, and a vision for conservative reform. But last night, Romney played it safe, reiterating the broad goals of his five-point plan - the creation of 12 million jobs, more school choice, energy independence, and the repeal of Obamacare.

ROMNEY: And let me make this very clear. Unlike President Obama, I will not raise taxes on the middle class of America.


ROMNEY: As president, I'll protect the sanctity of life. I'll honor the institution of marriage.


ROMNEY: And I will guarantee America's first liberty: the freedom of religion.


LIASSON: That was the only mention of social issues in the speech, and it was followed by a swipe at what Republicans consider to be President Obama's grandiosity. In contrast, Romney offered something much more down-to-earth.

ROMNEY: President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans ...


ROMNEY: ...and to heal the planet.


ROMNEY: My promise is to help you and your family.


LIASSON: Romney didn't talk about how he'd shrink the government or reform entitlements, the way Paul Ryan did on Wednesday. Instead, what he offered was himself; a man of family and faith but above all, a businessman with the skills to turn around the economy.

ROMNEY: If I'm elected president of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul, to restore that America; to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it. Our nation depends on it. The peace and freedom of the world require it and with your help, we will deliver it. Let us begin that future for America tonight!


LIASSON: The next few weeks will tell if Romney gets the typical post-convention bounce, and whether it will be fleeting or durable. But after the speech last night, delegates like Harold Coates, of Louisiana, were optimistic about Romney's chances in November.

HAROLD COATES: I think it was just dynamic. I think it was really what we needed to hear. And we will see the action of it as well. He has - he has executive experience, both in the private and the public sector. I like that. So he knows how to deal from all angles, and make this country work.

LIASSON: Now, Romney's fall campaign begins in earnest. Tomorrow, he's heading to the number one battle state for Republicans - Ohio.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.