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Tampa, Fla. • Embracing his Mormon faith, flashing his Olympics and business credentials and trashing his rival's economic policies, Mitt Romney on Thursday officially became the Republican presidential nominee and launched the final leg of his campaign with an eye toward attracting independents while still exciting his base.
Romney the first Mormon on a major presidential ticket charged into the general election pledging to revive the hope that Americans felt for generations, a promise, Romney says, that President Barack Obama failed to deliver on.
"If I am 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," Romney said. "That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it. And with your help we will deliver it."
Romney's speech, arguably the most important of his life so far, capped off a week peppered with speeches boasting of the ex-Massachusetts governor's business-building history and intended to solidify the argument that he's better qualified than Obama to rev up the American economy.
"I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed," Romney said. "But his promises gave way to disappointment and division."
"What is needed in our country today is not complicated or profound. It doesn't take a special government commission to tell us what America needs.
What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs."
Romney emerges from the convention in a dead heat with Obama in national polls and in several key states, including Colorado, Virginia and Iowa, where voters are evenly split and the dueling campaigns are pouring in resources.
Romney's 37-minute speech may help move the needle in his favor, humanizing him and making his success as a wealthy person seem like a qualification for the White House.
"Most voters have only heard about Romney from 30-second ads so far, so this speech helped to flesh out people's impressions of him," said Seth Masket, professor of political science at the University of Denver. "There weren't a lot of specifics in the speech, particularly on policy, but it probably gave people a good idea about why he feels he'd be a good president."
Mark McKinnon, a former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, went further.
"A solid speech that made him look more like a leader with some tender moments that made him look more human," he said Thursday night. "Mission accomplished."
The three-day GOP rally focused on hyping Romney's regular-Joe attributes as he heads into the fall campaign against an incumbent with a much higher likeability rating. On stage Thursday, Romney choked up while talking about his parents, his wife, Ann, and his sons and grandchildren.
Romney, who has been hesitant to say much about his Mormon faith on the campaign trail, pushed his religion out front and center Thursday, inviting five Mormons on stage to deliver the opening prayer and offer testimonials to his church service and caring nature.
And the candidate raised it himself, noting how he and his fellow LDS members help people in need.
"That's how it is in America," Romney said. "We look to our communities, our faiths, our families for our joy, our support, in good times and bad. It is both how we live our lives and why we live our lives. The strength and power and goodness of America has always been based on the strength and power and goodness of our communities, our families, our faiths."
Personal stories delivered, Romney laid into Obama, reminding voters of the president's campaign message of four years ago when campaign posters married his face to the word "hope."
"Hope and Change had a powerful appeal," Romney said Thursday. "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."
National Democrats blasted out a fundraising email from Obama saying: "Tonight was their night. But our focus must be on tomorrow."
And the president's Campaign manager Jim Messina criticized the lack of new ideas or proposals coming from the GOP nominee.
"Much like the entire Republican Convention, Mitt Romney's speech tonight offered many personal attacks and gauzy platitudes, but no tangible ideas to move the country forward," Messina said.
Four years ago, Romney couldn't persuade Republican voters of his own message, losing primary after primary.
But this time around, with a campaign renowned for its discipline, Romney clinched the nomination after vanquishing a wide field of GOP contenders who bludgeoned Romney as the front-runner in the primary race but then quickly lined up behind him to show party unity.
Some of those former rivals spoke glowingly about Romney while others cheered him on from the audience.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who proved to be one of Romney's toughest challengers, sung his praises this week in Florida.
"A vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan," Santorum said, "will put our country back in the hands of leaders who understand what America can and, for the sake of our children, must be to keep the dream alive."