By John Whitesides and Steve Holland
TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) – Republican Mitt Romney urged voters on Thursday to help him rebuild the U.S. economy and create millions of new jobs, asking them to overcome their disappointment in President Barack Obama and join him in restoring the promise of America.
In a high-stakes speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Romney said he would work to unify a divided country that believed Obama’s lofty campaign promises but had lost hope they would be fulfilled.
“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 said.
Earlier, the Republican National Convention in Tampa heard from a series of Romney’s friends and relatives who painted a picture of a humane, compassionate man – part of a three-day effort to humanize a candidate often accused of being cold and formal.
Romney’s speech, which launches a two-month dash to the November 6 election, was seen by tens of millions of television viewers and gave some their first extended look at the former Massachusetts governor.
It could be a defining moment for Romney, who has struggled to win over conservatives and connect with independent voters in a campaign against Obama that has been dominated by the sluggish economy and lingering high unemployment.
Romney says his experience as a business executive is the cure for the ailing economy and he promised to create 12 million jobs. He drew a sharp comparison between the promise of Obama’s election in 2008 and the results of the last four years.
“Today the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us, to put aside the divisiveness and the recriminations,” he said. “Now is the time to restore the promise of America.”
Romney said Americans wanted to believe in Obama but had suffered from his failures of leadership.
“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?”
“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.
In an effort to inject a shot of Hollywood glamour into the convention, actor Clint Eastwood spoke before Romney. His appearance fired up the crowd, although his long, rambling and sometimes incoherent blast at Obama frequently fell flat.
“When somebody does not do the job we’ve got to let them go,” Eastwood said.
‘GREAT AMERICAN SUCCESS STORY’
Democrats alternately portray Romney, 65, as a heartless corporate raider, wealthy elitist, tax evader and policy flip-flopper who should not be trusted with the keys to the White House.
To counter that image, the convention heard emotional testimonials about Romney’s work as a Mormon leader that made many convention delegates in the Tampa Bay Times Forum cry.
One couple talked of how Romney befriended and comforted their dying teenage son. A woman, Pam Finlayson, recalled how he prayed with her in hospital when her premature baby daughter was close to death.
“His eyes filled with tears and he reached down tenderly and stroked her tiny back,” Finlayson said.
Romney also tried to show a softer side, describing his parents and family and defending his work at Bain Capital, the private equity company that critics have accused of raiding companies and cutting jobs.
“That business we started with 10 people has now grown into a great American success story. Some of the companies we helped start are names you know,” he said, naming Staples and Sports Authority.
Romney and Obama have been running close in polls ahead of the election, but the convention so far has given Romney a boost. The latest Reuters/Ipsos online poll showed him moving into a narrow lead over Obama — 44 percent to 42 percent among likely voters. The Republican had entered the week trailing Obama by four percentage points.