Republicans handed their presidential nomination to Mitt Romney, turning to the former Massachusetts governor and multi-millionaire businessman as their hope for removing Barack Obama from the White House and ushering in a new era of small-government conservatism.
The overwhelming, enthusiastic vote of delegates at the Republican National Convention belied Romney's long, difficult road to the party's nomination: losing to Sen. John McCain four years ago and fending off a series of rivals in a brutal nomination fight this year. In the end, Republicans cast aside doubts about Romney's conservative credentials and bet that American voters would be persuaded that his business acumen was just what America needed in dreary economic times.
"It's time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House," said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, delivering the convention's keynote address Tuesday night, rousing the Republican audience. "Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good paying private sector jobs again in America."
Still, Republican exuberance was tempered as Hurricane Isaac slammed into the southern Louisiana coast and headed toward New Orleans late Tuesday, striking the same region hit by Hurricane Katrina seven years ago. The storm prompted Republicans to cancel the first day of the convention on Monday.
A soft-sided portrayal of the Republican candidate as husband and father, painted by his wife Ann on the stage in a direct appeal to women, combined with a parade of gleeful Obama-bashers Tuesday as the Republicans seized the moment after days of worry about the hurricane that simultaneously roared ashore in Louisiana — well out of sight of the gathering, and mostly out of mind for the night.
Romney made his debut at the convention two days before his own acceptance speech, rousing the crowd into cheers as he took the stage briefly to share a kiss with his wife after she spoke.
With Romney's nomination now official, and Obama's assured at next week's Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. voters will face a clear-cut clash of ideologies: Romney, conservative on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, favors cutting taxes, slashing the government and repealing Obama's signature health care overhaul — even though it was modeled after one of his own programs as governor. Obama is liberal on social issues, wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and sees government as a potential force for good.
Polls show the race a dead heat, with the economy the top issue in the campaign. Voters say they trust Romney more on economic issues, but find Obama to be the more likable candidate.
Romney was affirmed as the nominee in a suspenseless roll call of state delegations. He received 2,061 votes to 190 for Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a preordained victory sealed months ago when the former Massachusetts governor prevailed in a bruising series of primaries and caucuses.
Paul, the iconoclastic libertarian who has a passionate following but never won a primary race, did not go so quietly, or at least his supporters didn't. They chanted and booed after the convention adopted rules they opposed but were powerless to block. "Shame on you," some of his supporters chanted from the floor.
The highlights of Tuesday's session were the keynote address by Christie, a star of the party seen as a likely future presidential candidate, and the speech by Ann Romney. Both spoke during prime television time when all the major networks were airing the convention live.
Christie, issued a broad indictment of Democrats as "disciples of yesterday's politics" who "whistle a happy tune" while taking the country off a fiscal cliff.
Ann Romney's speech was meant to cast her husband, lampooned by comedians as robotic and denounced by Democrats as lacking compassion, in a soft and likable light.
She lovingly talked of her 43-year marriage, noting her own experiences battling muscular sclerosis and breast cancer. Her tone was intimate as she spoke about the struggles of working families: "If you listen carefully, you'll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It's how it is, isn't it? It's the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right."
Her mission was clear. For all the hundreds of speeches he's given and the years he's spent reaching this moment, Mitt Romney remains largely inscrutable, a man in a business suit whose core remains a mystery to most Americans. And he consistently lags behind Obama among women voters in polls.
His wife described her husband as a man who wakes up every day determined to solve the problems that others say can't be solved.
"This man will not fail," she said. "This man will not let us down."
Christie's and Ann Romney's speeches followed a long series of addresses by other top party officials, praising Romney and blasting Obama.
The Democratic president has "never run a company," declared Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman. "He hasn't even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand." House Speaker John Boehner said Obama "can't fix the economy because he doesn't know how it was built."
Rick Santorum, Romney's most serious primary competitor, told the convention that under Obama, the American dream of freedom and opportunity has become a "nightmare of dependency" with almost half of the country receiving some form of government benefit.
Romney's nomination followed ratification of a party platform thoroughly shaped by conservatives and farther to the right in opposing abortion than the candidate's own position. It also calls for cutting taxes as a way to stimulate the economy and repealing Obama's signature health care reform legislation and the measure passed to regulate Wall Street in the wake of the2008 economic collapse.
The list of speakers is to be topped Wednesday night by Romney's vice presidential running mate, congressman Paul Ryan, before the candidate himself speaks Thursday night to close the convention.
While Republicans gathered in Florida, Obama summoned a large campaign crowd of his own, 13,000 on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and tried to convert their boos for the Republicans into Election Day results for him. "Don't boo, vote," Obama said when his reference to the Republican agenda brought derision from the crowd. Obama was due to campaign Wednesday at a college in Virginia.
Before departing the White House, Obama made a point of appearing before reporters to announce the government's latest steps to help those in the way of Isaac. He signed a declaration of emergency for Mississippi and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local storm response efforts in the state.