TAMPA, Fla. – Mitt Romney wasn’t Donna Alu’s first choice in the Republican presidential primary field. The Tucson resident said she was a Herman Cain supporter earlier this year.
But the more she learned about the former Massachusetts governor and the more she heard from him, the more she found herself agreeing with him until, by Thursday night, it had moved somewhere beyond mere agreement.
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Alu, a delegate to the Republican National Convention, when asked if Romney was her pick for president.
They may not all have been as enthusiastic, but support for Romney was the order of the day Thursday as a convention that began under the threat of a hurricane ended with Romney as the party’s presidential nominee, amid cheering and balloons.
“Mr. Chairman and delegates, I accept your nomination for president of the United States,” said Romney from the stage of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “I do so with humility, deeply moved by the trust you’ve placed in me.”
Arizona delegates had a front-row seat to the moment, sitting just a few steps from the stage Thursday. The Arizonans gave a loud cheer when Romney walked in to the hall, causing him to wave to the delegation and stop to kiss Gov. Jan Brewer on the cheek before ascending the stage.
Alan Heywood, who was attending the convention as a guest of the Arizona delegation, said “all the people in America should be excited” by Romney’s candidacy.
“He represents the people of Arizona and the people of America,” said Heywood, wearing an American-flag hat with a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan pin on it Thursday. “I think he wants to be president for everyone.”
Besides sealing Romney’s nomination in front of a national audience, the event revved up the party faithful for the remaining two months of the presidential campaign. Democrats will nominate President Barack Obama for re-election at their convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week.
But amid the bunting and cheering Thursday, convention delegates and Republican elected officials from Arizona said Thursday they are confident they can sustain the convention’s energy until the November election.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, said it shouldn’t be that hard to bring the convention energy and Romney’s message home to the voters. Flake, who won the party’s nomination for Senate on Tuesday, was in the audience in Tampa on Thursday with his wife, Cheryl.
“By the time the convention rolls around, people are paying attention,” Flake said. “They’re watching this. The key is to just keep repeating what was said here, in every town. If we do that and the issues are jobs and economy, we will win.”
Romney’s focus on the economy is important to Charles Jensen, a convention delegate from Arizona and, like Romney, a businessman. Jensen called Romney’s acceptance speech, “Amazing. Exactly what he needed to do tonight.”
“There are so many people sitting on the sideline with their money,” he said. “They are all waiting for a change, a signal to business owners that the country is small-business friendly again.”
Romney focused on businesses in his speech Thursday, in which he told his own story and his plan for America.
“We will champion small businesses, America’s engine of job growth,” he said. “That means reducing taxes on business, not raising them. It means simplifying and modernizing the regulations that hurt small business the most.”
“What is needed in our country today is not complicated or profound,” Romney said. “It doesn’t take a special government commission to tell us what America needs. What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs.”
For Paul Lycos, an alternate delegate who lives in Phoenix, Romney “hit it out of the park,” with his acceptance speech.
Lycos said he supports Romney because he thinks the Republican nominee will be able to create jobs for unemployed Americans. Even if someone disagrees with Romney on social issues, Lycos thinks they should still pay attention to him.
“We don’t have the luxury to worry about those issues when we don’t have jobs,” Lycos said.
As Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, stood together on the convention stage Thursday amid the cheering and the traditional cascade of balloons from the arena’s rafters, Arizona delegate Ed Vallejo didn’t even need to look to know the party had selected the next president and vice president.
“What we need to look at, is what we are dealing with in Washington, D.C.,” said Vallejo.
He also said the party needs to come together even more between the end of the convention and election night this November. The party went through a grueling primary to get to this point, and some of the feuding intruded on the supposed unity of the convention, with supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul refusing to cast their ballots for Romney.
Arizona was one of those states that split its votes for the party’s presidential nominee, with 26 votes for Romney and three for Paul.
The Arizona GOP often discussed the need for finding unity during their delegation meetings this week in Tampa. Vallejo thinks they’re making progress as they get behind Romney’s message, but work is still needed.
“We have some healing to do,” said Vallejo. “There is division here, no doubt, not doubt about that. There is going to be animosity from some people, so we are going to do our best to reconcile the difference between the two campaigns.”
When they leave Tampa, Arizona Republicans will be returning to a state that hasn’t voted Democratic in a presidential election since 1996, when Bill Clinton was on the ballot. For Alu, Romney’s the man to not only carry the state but to win back the White House.
“What he did in Utah with the Olympics, his business acumen and the combination of Mitt and Paul Ryan is just exactly what America needs at this time to pull us out of this debt,” she said.