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Tampa, Fla. • GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney capped off a Republican National Convention dominated by hard-core conservatives by reaching out to the small sliver of swing voters in the center of the electorate.
Eschewing much of the heated partisan rhetoric of most convention speakers, Romney delivered a 37-minute acceptance speech designed to help him make political inroads with women, Latinos, African Americans, young voters and other groups that helped President Obama win the presidency in 2008.
"Hope and Change had a powerful appeal," Romney told more than 15,000 people gathered at a Tampa Bay Times Forum. "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? 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."
While Romney's runnning mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, ridiculed Obama and his record, Romney expressed sorrow that so many Americans' hopes for change were not realized.
"I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed," said Romney, offering a sharp contrast to congressional Republicans who vowed to stymie Obama and make him a one-term president from the earliest days of his presidency. "But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. This isn't something we have to accept."
With Romney and Obama locked in a statistical tie, only 11 percent of voters say there is any possibility that they will change their minds about their choice for president, a recent CNN/ORC International poll found. In swing states that have been deluged with television advertising, the size of the undecided bloc is even smaller as low as 6 percent of the electorate.
"It's a very small group," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, "much smaller than we usually see right now."
Romney used his nationally televised opportunity Thursday to address those persuadable voters rather than employing red-meat rhetoric to motivate the Republican Party's conservative core. He only briefly mentioned abortion or same-sex marriage, focusing instead on the economic issues that unite Republicans and appeal to many independent voters, as well. When it comes to jobs and free-enterprise capitalism, the Republican nominee portrayed Obama as an out-of-touch eccentric who doesn't understand American families or business creation.
The president, he said, wants to "heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family."
Romney's speech particularly targeted female voters, who favored Obama over Republican John McCain in 2008. Convention organizers spent the final two hours of their quadrennial confab highlighting the accomplishments of female entrepreneurs, Olympic athletes and public servants. He quoted his mother, an unsuccessful Michigan Senate candidate and dedicated feminist, as saying, "Why should women have any less say than men about the great decisions facing our nation?"
His mother's advice helped shape his worldview, he told delegates.
"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," he said.
If Americans embraced the power of love, he told the delegates, "this world would be a far more gentle and better place."
Instead of hope and change, Romney emphasized jobs and faith.
"Today the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us," he said. "To put aside the divisiveness and the recriminations. To forget about what might have been and to look ahead to what can be. Now is the time to restore the promise of America."
Romney's convention shined a national spotlight on up-and-coming female and Latino politicians, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Texas Senate nominee Ted Cruz and Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Rubio used his prime-time speaking opportunity Thursday to praise freedom and faith, while gently chiding Obama.
"Our problem is not that he is a bad person," Rubio said. "Our problem is that he's a bad president."