TAMPA, Fla. - Mitt Romney made the case Thursday night for why Republicans long ready to oust the president should be equally excited to vote for the former Massachusetts governor.
In officially accepting the GOP presidential nomination, Romney's opening argument was the culmination of a three-day introduction at the Republican National Convention and the starting pistol for a two-month sprint to November.
Romney needs an active base of supporters who will not only flood the voting booths but also volunteer to knock on doors, make phone calls and register voters to help him defeat President Barack Obama. To that end, Romney helped voters get to know him better on a personal level and get a clearer picture of what kind of alternative to Obama he offers.
"So here we stand," Romney said in his acceptance speech. "Americans have a choice, a decision. To make that choice you need to know more about me and where I'd lead your country."
The race is dead even for now, despite an economy still slow to recover from recession. Neither candidate led by more than a point or two in all but one poll released in the past three weeks.
But in a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week, 61 percent of registered voters said Obama seemed like the more friendly and likeable person.
Along with his former lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, Romney was preceded on the stage by a couple of old friends and fellow congregation members from Massachusetts. The goal of their message was twofold: Help erase any lingering concerns about Romney's leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and humanize a nominee known for his corporate background.
A biographical video of old Romney family photos and home videos, narrated by Romney and his wife, Ann, was shown before the last few speeches of the night. It sought to further ingrain a connection with voters, but it also highlighted Romney's business background - leading to his other and perhaps most important focus for the night.
With unemployment at 8.3 percent, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in an interview earlier in the day that it was clear what message Romney had to get across Thursday night for his speech to be a success.
"That he knows how to lead the country out of the economic mess and he has a plan for it," Alexander said. "If he can show he can do that, I think the country will welcome it, and I think it will help him get elected."
Just after the video played, the night got slightly off-message and a little odd when actor Clint Eastwood stepped onstage as a surprise speaker. He spoke to an empty chair, pretending Obama was sitting in it, and rambled some. But Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spoke next and brought the night back on the rails.
Following the speeches from elected officials, the crowd stands at long tables as they dig into BBQ, brunswick stew, cadillac rice at the Law Enforcement Cookout at Wayne Dasher's pond house in Glennville, Ga., on Thursday, April 17, 2014.