By Alexander Bolton - 08/31/12 02:44 AM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. — Sen. Marco Rubio touched on the spirit of Ronald Reagan and recalled his own humble upbringing to introduce Mitt Romney as a defender of the “American miracle.”
Rubio, a Florida Republican, immediately tackled President Obama’s likability by drawing a distinction between his character and his fitness for the job, emphasizing that Republicans do not have a personal grudge against him.
“Our problem with President Obama isn’t that he’s a bad person. By all accounts, he too is a good husband, and a good father — and thanks to lots of practice, a pretty good golfer.
“Our problem is he’s a bad president,” he said, drawing a roar from the crowd.
He contrasted the president’s campaign slogan of “forward” with the burgeoning federal debt and the $787 billion stimulus bill that “created more debt than jobs,” the expansion of government’s role in healthcare and “scores of new rules and regulations.”
His most scathing criticism was the charge that Obama abandoned his 2008 campaign promise to unify the nation and rise above politics as usual.
“Under Barack Obama, the only ‘change’ is that ‘hope’ has been hard to find. Now millions of Americans are insecure about their future. But instead of inspiring us by reminding us of what makes us special, he divides us against each other,” he said.
He launched his remarks by reminiscing about his grandfather, who was born to a farming family in rural Cuba, and asked for prayers that Cubans might one day enjoy the same freedoms as Americans.
He quickly turned the focus back on Romney, calling him a “man who understands what makes America exceptional.”
He recognized Romney’s success in the business world but moved to flesh out his public image by describing him as a devoted husband, father, grandfather and a charitable member of church and community.
“Everywhere he’s been, he’s volunteered his time and talent to make things better for those around him,” he said.
The speech avoided the mistake Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.) made Tuesday by waiting too long to shine a spotlight on Romney, which caused some grumbling among Republican pundits.
Rubio channeled Reagan by paying homage to the common values binding America, a theme Reagan used during his 1980 campaign, when he talked about a “community of shared values,” according to Reagan speechwriter Peter Hannaford.
“We are special because we’ve been united not by a common race or ethnicity. We’re bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have,” Rubio said.
Rubio tried to rise above the fray of partisan politics by arguing the election is more than a choice between Republican and Democrat, that it is a choice about whether future generations will inherit the “hopes and dreams” of a better future or a massive federal debt.
He spoke at length about his own experience of the American dream, recalling that his father had to start working at age 9 and spent decades as a bartender and that his mother was a cashier, maid and Kmart clerk.
“A few years ago during a speech, I noticed a bartender behind a portable bar at the back of the ballroom. I remembered my father who had worked for many years as a banquet bartender,” he recalled.
”He stood behind a bar in the back of the room all those years, so one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room. That journey, from behind that bar to behind this podium, goes to the essence of the American miracle.
“We’re special because dreams that are impossible anywhere else, come true here,” he said.
The theme appeared to be a direct appeal to the growing number of Americans who have become less optimistic about the future. Polling shows a majority of the nation is doubtful their children will have better lives than their parents.
Silence descended over the convention hall as Rubio talked about the nation’s economic struggles.
Rubio has been hailed as a promising liaison between the GOP and Hispanic voters, but he made little overt effort to appeal to Latinos.
There was speculation before the speech that he would deliver a portion in Spanish, but his only departure from English came when he quoted his father.
“En este pais, ustedes van a poder lograr todas las cosas que nosotros no pudimos: In this country, you will be able to accomplish all the things we never could.”
He kept his focus on selling Romney as someone who believes if Republicans change the direction of the country, “our children and grandchildren will be the most prosperous generation ever,” and confidently predicted Romney would be elected president.
He said the story of the 21st century would be written by a generation yet to be born. In a rising cadence, he urged the nation to vote in November in such a way that future historians could write: “We chose Mitt Romney to lead our nation. And because we did, the American miracle lived on for another generation to inherit”.
— Peter Schroeder, Emily Goodin and Justin Sink contributed to this report.