Mary Ann Middaugh, left, and Tonya Schuitmaker, both of Michigan, cheer from the floor at the second day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla, Tuesday. (Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News/MCT)
TAMPA, Fla. — Republicans on Tuesday nominated Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as their 2012 White House ticket, arming them with an unusually conservative party platform that’s already stirring bitter debate throughout the nation.
Romney, 65, is seeking to unseat President Barack Obama in a race that polls say has been too close to call for months.
Romney’s triumph Tuesday caps a five-year quest for the nomination that has rarely been smooth. Even Tuesday, the former Massachusetts governor, once viewed as a moderate eager to find common ground with Democrats, faced questions from the rank and file about his loyalty to the conservative views he’s touted during his White House bid.
Having Ryan, 42, the Wisconsin congressman and House Budget Committee chairman, has helped immensely, as Romney and Ryan easily won majorities of the 2,286 delegates.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, formally nominated Romney. His state, which his son once represented in the U.S. Senate, is considered a swing state in November.
“We’re saddled with a failed presidency with an incumbent president who has not led,” Sununu told a crowd that seemed more absorbed in conversation. He got little applause.
Sununu would pause, waiting for cheers that rarely came, with lines like, “There are many reasons America needs Mitt Romney at the helm. Barack Obama can’t figure out what makes the private sector work.”
The roll call of states was to be followed by a night of speeches aimed at sending a message to voters that Republicans know how to fix the economy and Obama doesn’t.
Republicans, they say, will adopt policies that provide incentive for private business to expand and hire. Democrats, they say, only want to grow the government.
“President Obama’s never run a company. He hasn’t even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. “So it’s time for a president with real experience in the real economy. Mitt Romney will be that president.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, known for his plainspoken style, was to end the night with the keynote address. The night’s emotional highlight was expected to be an address by Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, talking about her husband’s warmer side.
“I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage,’ ” Ann Romney said in remarks prepared for delivery. She explained how “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.”
Ann Romney has suffered from both.
The speeches were to provide a final burst of momentum for a lively day, the first full day of a convention whose major business was postponed Monday as Tropical Storm Isaac threatened the Tampa Bay region.
Isaac, which became a hurricane on Tuesday, was churning toward the Gulf Coast and was frequently mentioned by speakers expressing sympathy for potential victims.
The mood inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum was sometimes businesslike, sometimes festive, as delegates heard dozens of speeches sounding the same message and quietly adopted a party platform that Democrats are eager to attack.
That platform, when combined with the one Democrats are expected to adopt next week at their convention, will provide voters with the starkest ideological choice they’ve had in a generation. A new Pew Research Center survey found more people were interested in the Republican Party platform than in Romney’s Thursday night acceptance speech.
Some party leaders are concerned.
“If it was up to me, I’d put the platform on one sheet of paper. Have you ever met anyone who read it?” asked House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
Democrats are focused, particularly on the section on abortion. “We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it,” the platform says.
Romney has said he backs abortion in the case of rape or incest, or if the life of the woman is threatened.
Some delegates worried that the plank, which Democrats have been aggressively criticizing, could cause trouble throughout the fall.
“It already has made it harder for us, and will until people wake up and stop bringing this up every four years,” said Frank Simpson of Cumming, Ga., who runs a cheese company.
But Bill Drout, a Spring, Texas, software consultant, argued that voters would appreciate the party’s stand on principle.
“I don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of the crime of rape,” Drout said. “We should make the penalties more serious. But either you believe in life or you don’t.”
Romney has never been a big favorite with conservatives, but many delegates said the addition of Ryan gave them new energy.
“I’m a lot more enthusiastic now that he’s chosen Paul Ryan. Ryan knows the language of conservatives,” said Jorge Landiver, an Internet company owner from Arlington, Texas.