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Cheers, laughter, tears on final night

TAMPA, Fla. — Republicans on the convention floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum laughed at Clint Eastwood, cheered Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and wiped away tears as Mitt Romney delivered perhaps the most personal speech of his life on Thursday.

The final night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., was an emotional roller coaster for delegates, as a moment of bizarre celebrity led into a heartfelt rallying cry from the party’s presidential nominee.

By the end of the evening, jubilant Republicans praised all three headliners.

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“I’m still in awe,” Lew Vassberg of Texas said as balloons fell after Romney’s speech. There were tears in her eyes. “There’s so much depending on this election.”

Midway through Romney’s 37-minute speech, delegates in the arena grew nervous as Code Pink protesters seated behind Romney and to his left began to shout, “People over profits!” Romney paused but didn’t acknowledge the interruption, while security dragged the two women out of the hall. The crowd began to shout, “USA, USA!” to drown out the protests, and Romney briefly tried to speak over the commotion.

Romney devoted a large portion of his speech to his family, choking up at times as he described his parents, wife and children. Delegates appeared moved as he described how his late father put a rose on his mother’s nightstand every night for 64 years. Romney’s mother only knew his father died, Mitt Romney said, when she awoke and did not find a rose beside her.

"Mitt Romney did what he absolutely had to do," Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said. "He let the crease out of his blue jeans, if you will, and showed the American people that he's a regular guy."

A former rival of Romney’s, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), said the speech was “fantastic,” and retiring Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) called it “spectacular.”

"It met all of our expectations. People are leaving with such hope and joy," Bachmann told The Hill.

Some delegates craned to see Romney through a packed convention floor filled with VIPs and reporters. The convention’s keynote speaker, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), was spotted looking not at the podium during sections of the speech but backwards at the teleprompter that Romney was reading from.

Balloons and confetti were still falling as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gaveled the three-day convention to a close. Excited delegates snapped pictures and looted the floor for souvenir placards and signs.

Earlier in the evening, Clint Eastwood’s appearance in the hall electrified the crowd, even though his “surprise” stop had leaked in news reports hours earlier. The 82-year-old Hollywood legend appeared a bit ragged, his gray hair unkempt.

Delegates on the floor laughed throughout Eastwood’s meandering speech, during which he spoke to an empty chair that served as a stand-in for President Obama. When Eastwood suggested that Obama had failed and the country needed to “let him go,” the crowd began to chant. Some in the audience appeared to grimace during jokes that bordered on off-color.

Not Ann Romney. Seated in the family box, she pointed excitedly as Eastwood began to lead the delegates to recite his icon “Dirty Harry” line, “Make my day.” As the crowd joined in, so did Ann Romney.

Eastwood’s prop was not apparent to all in the arena. Gingrey said Eastwood was “great,” but he was shocked to learn the actor was speaking to an empty chair representing Obama. Gingrey was seated with the Georgia delegation to the far right of the stage, and he told The Hill he had “no idea” the chair was there.

Instead, Gingrey said he assumed Eastwood was responding to a heckler in the crowd throughout the speech, making it a different experience altogether.

Still, Gingrey praised the star. "He's somebody that needs no introduction," Gingrey said.

— Peter Schroeder, Molly K. Hooper, Emily Goodin, Erik Wasson and Jordy Yager contributed.