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Friday, August 31, 2012

Romney\'s Performance Provided a Smooth Ending for G.O.P. Convention


TAMPA , Fla. - Just after 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, about 10 minutes behind schedule, Mitt Romney strode down on the red-carpeted floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, shaking hands on both sides of the aisle.

It was as if he were already the president and about to deliver his first State of the Union speech. As Mr. Romney ambled his way toward the platform, workers moved a lectern to the front of the stage â€" closer to the audience that for so long has seemed so distant for Mr. Romney.

For nearly 40 minutes, Mr. Romney spoke - confident and at ease, alone on the huge stage erected for this moment - and accepted the Republican nomination for president. It was a polished moment of stagecraft, a smooth ending to a convention that had begun in the unsteady shadow of a looming tropical storm and a primary campaign that been stormy throughout.

For Mr. Romney, this was the performance of someone who may not be a natural at politics, but had clearly spent time practicing for this appearance before the biggest audience of his life. He spoke quickly, but there were no flubbed lines. He was at ease as he joked with the crowd, careful not to step on his own applause lines.

There were moments it was easy to imagine Mr. Romney, the competitive perfectionist, practicing in front of a mirror or before a room filled with aides. Yet for all the criticism of him as wooden or forced, he did not seem too practiced, as he breezed between gauzy stories about his life and tough, though not piercing, attacks on Mr. Obama.

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Mr. Romney said, pausing - almost a moment too long - as the audience rose in mocking laughter. “My promise is to help you and your family.”

Mr. Romney's broadly thematic speech was largely devoid of specific proposals. Still, as was the case with the acceptance speech of his ru nning mate, Paul D. Ryan, it contained some questionable statements, among them his oft-repeated (and oft-debunked) claim that Mr. Obama had gone on “an apology tour” for America.

And he spoke almost matter-of-factly of using this speech to do what many Republicans - and for that matter, Sunday morning television commentators - had told him he needed to do. “You need to know more about me and where I will lead the country,” he said, before starting with the “I was born” section of his remarks.

If the normally punctual Mr. Romney was irritated by the late start of his speech, it was not apparent. And how could he be? The delay came because of Clint Eastwood, the actor and director, who was the surprise guest at the convention, at the candidate's request, to introduce Mr. Romney.

Mr. Eastwood walked on stage to a burst of flashbulbs and Hollywood-like applause. “Save a little for Mitt,” he said.

Mr. Eastwood also arrived without any visi ble script - the only words on the teleprompter were stage directions (“Whip team - hand out the flags”). And it showed. As the cameras clicked, he launched into lanky, meandering remarks, included a mock, and at times off-color, interview with an imaginary Mr. Obama sitting in an empty chair on the stage.

A red light flashed furiously under the teleprompter. If Mr. Eastwood, who is 82, saw it, he paid it no mind. Given his line of work, it seems unlikely he was unfamiliar with its meaning.

Before Mr. Eastwood, a lineup of Mr. Romney's friends, fellow church elders, associates from his business life and people who worked for him when he was governor of Massachusetts paid tribute to his compassion and charity. A biographical videotape included intimate accounts of the life of Mr. Romney and his family - complete with pictures of his babies and marriage and a discussion of Ann Romney's struggle with multiple sclerosis. The video was powerful, yet it was shown b efore prime time, to make way for Mr. Eastwood and Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who introduced Mr. Romney.

That put the pressure on Mr. Romney to use his speech to sketch in for this larger audience the details of his personal life that have been so absent during this campaign.

The crowd seemed heartened by Mr. Romney's stories of his life. “That's the type of leadership I look for,” said Andrew Kotyuk, a delegate from California. “It's somebody who is humble, and willing to give a helping hand, and doesn't brag about giving a helping hand.”

But it offered its loudest cheers when Mr. Romney pledged to eliminate Obamacare and when he asserted that the “the centerpiece of the president's entire re-election campaign is attacking success.”

Overall, the reception for Mr. Romney may not have been quite as ecstatic as the response that greeted Mr. Ryan the night before. Still, the response in the room was warm and enthusiasm, the applause of a crowd of people who were eager for their speaker to succeed and had concluded, with almost palpable relief, that he had.

Ashley Parker contributed reporting.