TAMPA, Fla. – Fired-up Republicans saw Mitt Romney accept the nomination for president Thursday night, ending a four-day convention that simultaneously rallied the party and exposed its fractures.
Romney mostly left it to others to tell his story, and Thursday night’s program featured former business partners and employers, Olympians from the 2002 Salt Lake City games and church friends like Pam Finlayson.
Finlayson talked about how Romney’s family took care of hers when her daughter was born prematurely in the hospital.
“I will never forget that when he looked down tenderly at my daughter, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached out gently and stroked her tiny back,” she said.
Delegate J. Paul Brown of Ignacio said the week probably was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but he would love to repeat it.
Brown enjoyed vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s speech, and he thought Romney’s wife, Ann, delivered an important speech Tuesday night.
“He’s a moral man, and I think she brought that out. I think we need a good, strong, moral leader for the nation and for the world,” Brown said.
Brown and other Colorado delegates were able to get up close with party stars. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the delegation for breakfast Thursday, lending a foreign-policy voice to a campaign that has focused mostly on the economy.
“I think somehow, if we thought we muted our voice, people would follow us more,” Rice said. “People don’t hear a strong American voice.”
Rice did not stay to answer questions or pose for pictures, but she did accept one of the delegation’s official white cowboy hats.
However, the week was far from fun and games for many Colorado delegates who support Texas congressman Ron Paul. They still are smarting over what they saw as a predetermined vote Tuesday in favor of new party rules that could make it harder for them to get into future conventions.
The episode led to widespread booing on the convention floor – unheard of in an era when conventions are more like four-day photo opportunities than true contests.
“I think the vote fraud that went on in-house is egregious and reflects poorly on the party,” said Todd King, a delegate from Lewis. “If they would have allowed a legitimate vote and some dialogue, it would have united and strengthened the party. As it is, it’s further divided.”
Thursday morning, state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call issued a plea for unity to delegates, quoting from former President Ronald Reagan’s famous “11th commandment” speech that forbade speaking ill of other Republicans after the primary election.
“I ask you to please recognize the stakes,” Call said. “The decision has been reached, and we have a wonderful opportunity to be able to work behind these two good candidates who are carrying our party’s banner as we move forward.”
In an interview, Call said the rift would not hurt the party because Paul’s show of strength at the convention doesn’t reflect his support among voters. Paul finished fourth in Colorado’s February caucus.
“I admire the dedication of (Paul’s) adherents,” Call said. “But I think that support of his is a distinct minority among the vast majority of Republicans and members of the general electorate.”
Even King found the convention worthwhile because it let people from each faction get to know each other. He sat and talked happily with a Romney delegate who “three days ago, never would have given me the time of day.”
“I have faith that it will ultimately work to strengthen the party,” King said.
Earlier in the week, the convention showcased some rising stars in the party, including Rice, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., governors Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez and Scott Walker (of New Jersey, South Carolina, New Mexico and Wisconsin).
Ryan’s Wednesday night speech ignited a battle with the media about its accuracy. Fact-checking organizations found several omissions or misleading statements, from blaming President Barack Obama for the closure of a Wisconsin car factory that happened during the Bush administration to knocking Obama for not supporting a deficit plan that Ryan, too, voted against.