By BETH FOUHY
---- — TAMPA, Fla. — The Republican convention propelled Mitt Romney into the fall campaign on a high note, thanks to his well-received acceptance speech, an appealing cast of future party leaders and a relentless drumbeat of criticism of President Barack Obama’s record and leadership. Yet the proceedings also were clouded by troubling images of Hurricane Isaac and a bizarre performance by actor Clint Eastwood that left many viewers scratching their heads.
While the convention presented a show of party unity that once seemed distant, there still were questions about how the party would tackle issues like Medicare and spending cuts.
The convention also didn’t offer the game-changing shift in momentum many activists had hoped for to reverse pre-convention polls showing Romney trailing Obama narrowly in several battleground states. And the focus on next week’s Democratic gathering means Romney’s own convention boost is likely to be short-lived.
Republicans had a lot riding on the outcome of the Tampa conclave, which began a day late amid concerns Isaac would make a direct hit there. The nationally televised proceedings gave Romney and other Republicans their last opportunity to make an unfiltered pitch to millions of voters just now tuning in to the presidential contest.
Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said the convention had delivered what it promised: a clear contrast between Romney’s vision and Obama’s record.
“What Americans have seen over the last few days is a party and a Republican ticket absolutely committed to addressing the job crisis. You won’t hear it from the Democrats in Charlotte next week,” Fehrnstrom said. “People have seen a diverse group of individuals who believe very deeply in the American free enterprise system. It’s very different than the negative characterization the Democrats are trying to paint of this convention.”
In many ways, the convention succeeded.
Romney, whose image has been battered by a barrage of Obama campaign ads depicting him as a corporate raider and plutocrat, delivered a heartfelt acceptance speech that mixed biography with moments of emotion. The former Massachusetts governor teared up when speaking of his late parents and reminiscing about his five sons growing up.
Romney also made a passionate appeal to voters who once supported Obama but are now disillusioned, acknowledging the excitement they’d felt four years ago for Obama’s candidacy but telling them it’s safe to switch sides now.
“The president hasn’t disappointed you because he wanted to. The president has disappointed America because he hasn’t led America in the right direction,” Romney said.
But the speech lacked many memorable phrases or laugh lines, and opened only the narrowest new window into how Romney would govern if elected president. He promised to create 12 million new jobs but offered little new detail into how he would do so, and he resisted entreaties to get more specific about the spending cuts he’d make to bring the nation’s debt and deficits under control.
The convention did help refresh the Republican brand with a diverse group of prime-time speakers who belied the party’s image as a largely older, white and male party out of step with the nation’s changing demographics.
Speakers including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez both had star-making turns, while the high-profile presence of 42-year-old vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and 41-year-old Florida Sen. Marco Rubio signaled an impending generational shift for the GOP.
Many Republican activists saw the lineup as relief after comments about rape and abortion by Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin overshadowed the run-up to the convention. Romney and other party leaders repudiated Akin for suggesting victims of “legitimate” rape could physically thwart pregnancy, but the dustup over Akin’s remarks caused headaches for GOP strategists hoping to close a large gender gap among women voters.
The convention speakers “put a really good reinvigoration into what the Republican Party is all about,” GOP strategist John Feehery said. “It’s not about the Todd Akins of the world, it’s about a bigger, deeper bench and more varied experiences.”
Obama campaign senior advisor David Axelrod said voters tuned in to the GOP convention hoping to hear “practical solutions to the challenges we face. What they got instead were some snarky lines about the president, some gauzy reminiscences of the past and some buzzwords for the base.”
Some of the most highly anticipated speeches fell short.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s keynote address Tuesday was called a flop by many critics who saw it as an overt play for personal publicity at the expense of promoting Romney. And while Ryan’s well-delivered speech drew raves from many party activists, it contained several factual inaccuracies that threatened to contradict the Wisconsin congressman’s image as a self-professed truth teller.
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz dubbed the convention an “infomercial for their candidates for 2016” that had little to do with a Romney presidency.
Then there’s the matter of Eastwood, the 82-year old actor and director who addressed the convention before Romney. Eastwood’s rambling, imaginary interview of Obama, with a chair intended as a stand-in for the president, competed for attention with Romney’s own speech.
Romney visited New Orleans Friday to investigate hurricane damage — a hastily added event which helped him reclaim some visibility amid the Eastwood flap. But the Obama campaign was only too happy to keep the issue alive with a reaction on Twitter — a photo of Obama in a chair at the White House and a caption that read, “This seat’s taken.”
Romney’s wife, Ann, offered a diplomatic response when asked if Eastwood’s monologue was a mistake.
“He’s a unique guy and he did a unique thing last night,” she told “CBS This Morning.”