With the Republican National Convention and the biggest speech of his life behind him, Mitt Romney now faces the most important two-month stretch in his bid for the presidency.
Romney’s acceptance speech Thursday night in Tampa, Fla., offered Americans who had somehow managed to avoid the summer’s bitter presidential campaign to get a good look at the man Republicans are offering as an alternative to President Barack Obama in November's election.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the party's rising stars, delivered a strong introduction for Romney, setting the stage for the former Massachusetts governor and wealthy businessman who made history by becoming the first Mormon presidential nominee in U.S. history. He failed in his first attempt in 2008.
But did Romney do well enough? And did the convention, which cost the party untold millions of dollars but was only carried by the mainstream television networks for an hour on each of its three nights, give him a bounce in the polls in his neck-and-neck race with Obama?
Those questions will be polled and spun by both sides until Obama and the Democrats put on their own show next week in Charlotte, N.C., and later when the two candidates face off under the television lights in the first presidential debate.
While Romney was never expected to match the current president’s powers of oration, Romney delivered a focused message to voters disenchanted with Obama’s four years in office, saying now was the time "to restore America’s promise."
Blasting Obama’s economic and foreign policy decisions, Romney promised to improve the country’s economy, add 12 million jobs, strengthen the military and take a tougher stance internationally against Iran, Russia and China. After Obama’s election, Romney said, the president promised "to slow the rise of the oceans" and "to heal the planet."
"My promise," the Republican candidate told the crowd and primetime audiences watching at home, "is to help you and your family."
Romney also tried to address his ever-reluctant base he could lead them as a conservative, with promises to protect the sanctity of life, honour the institution of marriage and guarantee freedom of religion.
Personal voices from faith
The subject of Romney’s Mormon faith, rarely approached during his primary campaign, was front and centre during Thursday night’s convention events in a bid to inject more warmth and humanity into Romney’s stiff public persona. Polls consistently show that while Romney’s business experience is highly valued, the Republican candidate is perceived by voters as less likeable and compassionate than Obama.
At one point, Romney's voice cracked with emotion as he recalled how his late father, George Romney, would buy a rose for his wife every day until the day he died.
But Romney’s best help in showing American voters his softer side came in testaments from two families he counselled as a Mormon lay pastor as their children were stricken by life-threatening illnesses and then succumbed to them.
Pam Finlayson, whose daughter Kate suffered a brain hemorrhage three days after her birth, told the crowd Romney would visit and pray with them during the "many months" she was in hospital.
"His eyes filled with tears and he reached down tenderly and stroked her tiny back," said Finlayson, whose daughter died 18 months ago after "26 years of both miracles and struggle."
"When I see Mitt, I know him to be a loving father, man of faith and caring and compassionate friend."
Bain record defended
Several speeches and videos heaped praise Thursday night on Romney’s business background and the job-creation record of his private equity firm Bain Capital, designed as pushback against Democratic accusations Romney got rich by plundering vulnerable businesses at the expense of workers.
The final night of the convention can be viewed as a success for Republicans in that it happened at all. Organizers had considered cancelling speeches when Tropical Storm Isaac threatened Tampa before veering toward Louisiana.
The convention was not without problems, including several angry protests from supporters of rival candidate Ron Paul over alleged rule-bending and delegate-tampering by the Romney camp, which culminated in a walkout Wednesday by the entire Maine delegation.
While Paul's positions hardly jibed with traditional Republican supporters, Rachel Bolch Thach, 26, from San Antonio, was one of many of the Texas congressman’s supporters vowing there was "no way" she would vote for Romney after the way Paul’s delegates were treated at the convention.
Bloch Thach told CBCNews.ca that Romney’s campaign and the Republican party "blew a great opportunity to diversify the party’s base with youth and energy."
"We just all feel very alienated right now," she said.
Despite the challenges at the convention, Tim Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota, insisted the convention delivered a clear message for voters.
"Mitt Romney will not only identify that Barack Obama broke his promises and failed the country, but that Mitt Romney has a better plan and a better vision forward," Pawlenty, who dropped his bid for the Republican presidential nomination early on in the race to support Romney, told CBCNews.ca Thursday evening.
"It’s actually not just talk, he’s done it in the private sector and when he was governor in Massachusetts."
Nancy Wall, who brought her two teenaged daughters to hear Thursday's acceptance speech, left reaffirmed by what she heard from Romney's personal story.
"When he was talking about families, that’s the core of our nation," Wall told CBCNews.ca. "We need to strengthen our families. I think he’ll make a great president."