TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Mitt Romney launched his fall campaign for the White House Thursday night with a rousing, remarkably personal speech to the Republican National convention and a prime-time TV audience, proclaiming that America needs "jobs, lots of jobs" and promising to create 12 million of them in perilous economic times.
"Now is the time to restore the promise of America," Romney said to a nation struggling with 8.3 percent unemployment and the slowest economic recovery in decades.
Often viewed as a distant politician, Romney made a press-the-flesh entrance into the hall, walking slowly down one of the convention aisles and shaking hands with dozens of delegates. The hall erupted in cheers when he reached the stage and waved to his cheering, chanting supporters before beginning to speak.
"I accept your nomination for president," he said, to more cheers. Then he pivoted into personal details of family life, recounting his youth as a Mormon, the son of parents devoted to one another, then a married man with five rambunctious sons.
He choked up at least twice, including when he recalled how he and wife Ann would awake to find "a pile of kids asleep in our room."
He was unstinting in his criticism of President Barack Obama, his Democratic quarry in a close and uncertain race for the White House, and drew cheers when he vowed to repeal Obama's signature health care law.
"This president can tell us it was someone else's fault. This president can tell us that the next four years he'll get it right. But this president cannot tell us that you are better off today than when he took office," Romney declared.
"I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began his presidency with an apology tour," he said, then accusing the incumbent of failing to support Israel while exercising patience with its arch-enemy, Iran.
To win, Romney needs to convince some of those voters that "hope and change" didn't really work out - and that he is the man to fix the problem.
"To the majority of Americans who now believe that the future will not be better than the past, I can guarantee you this: If Barack Obama is re-elected, you will be right," Romney said.
Aides said the speech was the most important of Romney's political career and will forever change his family's legacy. In winning his party's presidential nomination, the former Massachusetts governor has succeeded where his father failed a generation ago. But facing a two-month sprint to an Election Day matchup against President Barack Obama, Romney is now trying to broaden his appeal and connect with women and with middle-of-the road voters who will ultimately decide his fate.
To do so, he struck an often soft tone laced with deeply personal themes. He drew from Mormon faith and the influence of his mother and father - both dead for more than a decade - when he faced the Republican National Convention and a prime-time audience.
"My mom and dad gave their kids the greatest gift of all - the gift of unconditional love. They cared deeply about who we would be, and much less about what we would do," Romney will say, according to prepared remarks released by the campaign.
George Romney, a Michigan governor, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 when Romney was a young man. His mother, Lenore, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in Michigan in 1970.
"My mom and dad were true partners, a life lesson that shaped me by everyday example. When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way," Romney said.
The remarks were delivered a stage that puts him a little bit closer to the crowd inside the convention hall. His campaign hopes the evening ends with Americans feeling a little bit closer to the Republican presidential candidate, too.
On this night, they told Romney's story.
The entire evening - from the physical staging to the speakers' program to the planned whole-family entrance after Romney's big speech - was aimed at introducing the sometimes stiff and distant politician as a businessman, Olympic savior and deeply religious family man. His pitch to his party, as well as to the many undecided voters who are disappointed in the country's direction, will be that he's the candidate better able to shoulder the country's economic burdens.
The testimonials were deeply personal.
One couple, Ted and Pat Oparowsky, told the crowd about their 14-year-old son David, dying of cancer, who Romney would visit in the hospital. He bought the boy fireworks, helped him write a will, and, at David's request, delivered the eulogy at his funeral. Another woman, Pam Finlayson, talked about her daughter, born three months premature - and Romney, her church pastor at the time, would come to the hospital and pray for the little girl.
"Like a lot of families in a new place with no family, we found kinship with a wide circle of friends through our church," Romney, who met both families through his church, will say. "We prayed together, our kids played together and we always stood ready to help each other out in different ways."
To prepare for the big night, Romney spent months making meticulous notes about his experiences campaigning. He read numerous previous convention speeches and talked to a number of close friends and confidants about how to approach his address. He and his wife, Ann, spent part of last weekend rehearsing their speeches in an auditorium at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., near the family's lakeside summer home.
Before Romney spoke, a parade of people from his past took the podium to walk through different phases of his life: his time running the private equity firm Bain Capital, his years running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and his experiences as governor of Massachusetts. Referred to inside the campaign as "character witnesses," the speeches were designed to showcase the man who friends say inspires fierce loyalty.