TAMPA — Mitt Romney arrived here from Massachusetts on Tuesday and was formally nominated the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, kicking off the GOP convention even as it competed with Hurricane Isaac for the nation’s attention.
Ann Romney — the nominee’s wife and most important political adviser — electrified the crowd with a 20-minute speech that mixed feisty rhetoric about the state of the country with a far softer image of her husband, who has struggled throughout his political career to connect emotionally with voters.
She was followed by keynote speaker Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, who rallied the party toward a path of hard decisions and hard work.
The two speeches were a contrast in tone and capped a day in which the mood and the schedule at the convention intensified, after organizers had canceled activities on Monday because of unsettled weather off the Gulf Coast.
Ann Romney’s speech illustrated why the Romney campaign believes she is one of his best assets, and why they were eager for her to deliver a prime-time televised address.
She spoke of the funny boy she fell in love with. She challenged the notion that they have lived a cozy, picture-perfect life, highlighting some of the difficulties they have faced during their 43 years of marriage. And she painted a portrait of their early years together, living in a basement apartment, eating pasta and tuna fish, and converting a fold-down ironing board into a dining room table.
“I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage,’ ” she said. “Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or breast cancer.”
“A storybook marriage?” she added. “No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.”
When she finished her speech, Mitt Romney appeared on stage to loud applause. He gave Ann two brief kisses, whispered “You were fantastic” to her, and waved briefly to the crowd before leaving the stage.
Christie gave a more pugnacious speech, delivered in pointed, swaggering cadences.
“Tonight, I say enough,” Christie said, adding later that “tonight, we choose respect over love. We are not afraid. We are taking our country back.”
Christie spoke in dire terms about putting the country on a different path, calling for a national rededication to hard work, straight talk, and courage that he said defined an America of past generations.
“I don’t want my children and grandchildren to have to read in a history book what it was like to live in an American Century,” Christie said. “I don’t want their only inheritance to be an enormous government that has overtaxed, overspent, and overborrowed a great people into second-class citizenship. I want them to live in a second American Century.”
The formal actions of the day involved passing the party’s platform and casting formal votes to nominate Romney as the presidential nominee, and Ryan as the vice presidential nominee.
At about 5:40 p.m., New Jersey awarded 50 delegates to Romney, casting the final votes needed to formally deliver the nomination, a prize that he had devoted at least six years to achieving. The crowd then erupted into chants of, “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!”
The final tally was 2,061 votes for Romney and 202 delegates divided among other candidates, primarily Representative Ron Paul of Texas.
Romney still has to formally accept the nomination — something he plans to do on Thursday — before he becomes the nominee and can start spending the large sums of money designated for the general election.
But the day was also marked by discord, with the convention upended by a delegate dispute involving Ron Paul and his supporters, who were incensed at rules changes that unseated 10 Paul delegates from Maine.
Paul strode onto the floor in the afternoon, posing for photos and signing autographs. His supporters chanted his name, shouted “Let him speak,” and some delegates shouted at Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, as he tried to gavel the hall into order. Several Maine delegates walked out of the convention hall in protest over the rules changes.
Ann Romney started the day by describing a previously undisclosed miscarriage she had when she was in her 40s.
She told CBS’s “This Morning” that she got pregnant unexpectedly — because doctors had told her after surgery 10 years earlier that she wouldn’t have children again. But then one night she knew she was losing the baby. She waited several hours before waking her husband to take her to the hospital.
She also said that the youngest Romney son, Craig, who had always wanted a younger brother, was crestfallen by the news.
“I was home by the time he got home from school that afternoon,” Ann Romney said. “And he walked in the door, and he was about 10, 11 years old. And he fell on the floor and just burst into tears. And the poor little kid had been at school all day long holding this sorrow inside of him.”
The account is the type of raw, emotional, personal story that could help the new Republican nominee make more of a connection with voters.
In addition to promoting her husband, she also made a direct appeal Tuesday night to women, a group of voters where President Obama has an 8-point margin, according to a recent Gallup poll.
“It’s the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together,” she said. “We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters.”
Ann Romney also rebutted attacks on her husband for how he made his money, invoking the types of lessons mothers should teach their children.
“It’s true that Mitt has been successful at each new challenge he has taken on. It amazes me to see his history of success actually being attacked,” she said. “Are those really the values that made our country great? As a mom of five boys, do we want to raise our children to be afraid of success?”
“As his partner on this amazing journey, I can tell you Mitt Romney was not handed success,” she added. “He built it.”
While it’s true that Mitt and Ann Romney lived relatively modestly as newlyweds — and that Mitt Romney made almost all of his fortune himself — their families did provide a strong safety net.
Mitt’s parents had bought them a car and later gave them money to buy their first home.
“This is the man who will work harder than anyone so that we can work a little less hard,” Ann said toward the end of her address. “I can’t tell you what will happen over the next four years. But I can only stand here tonight, as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an American, and make you this solemn commitment: This man will not fail. This man will not let us down.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com.