By CARL STRAUMSHEIM
TAMPA, Fla.—Mitt Romney accepted the Republican nomination for president Thursday night in a speech here that scolded President Barack Obama for delivering "disappointment and division" instead of "hope and change," and called for disillusioned voters to unite under a Republican banner of American exceptionalism.
Maryland's delegates to the convention joined the thousands gathered in the Tampa Bay Times Forum in applauding, cheering, shouting, whistling, Tweeting and posting on Facebook as Romney spoke. Delegates reacted throughout Romney's speech, breaking into chants and waving signs in the air.
"He knocked it out of the ballpark," said Ellen Sauerbrey, a former member of the House of Delegates and twice an unsuccessful candidate for Maryland governor. "I think he did just what he needed to do. The emphasis on jobs, families, freedom - it was a lot of things I wanted to hear and I heard them loud and clear."
Under the heading "We Believe in America," Romney expanded upon the vision of limited government described Wednesday by his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Romney promised tax cuts and lighter regulations for small businesses, which he praised both in personal anecdotes and policy proposals as "America's engine of job growth."
Romney's acceptance speech concluded a Republican National Convention initially derailed by fears that Hurricane Isaac would make landfall in Florida. After the four-day convention schedule was retooled to fit into three days, Republican speakers lined up to assail Obama's term in office and make their arguments for the GOP ticket.
"It was Paul Ryan's job to be rougher on Obama, and Romney's job tonight was to create a vision for the future, and he laid it out in very simple terms,'' said Maryland National Committeeman Louis Pope.
The former governor of Massachusetts hardly stopped campaigning after losing the Republican nomination to Sen. John McCain in 2008. He emerged an early favorite in the 2012 race, but a lineup of Republican one-hit-wonders ranging from businessman Herman Cain to Texas Gov. Rick Perry - and a rule change that forced early caucus and primary states to award their delegates proportionately - kept Romney from effectively securing the nomination until former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum suspended his campaign in early April.
Thursday, Romney used the hype surrounding Obama's candidacy in 2008 to portray himself as a pragmatic leader.
"You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him," Romney said. "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family."
Other speakers during the convention focused on Romney's personal life in order to make him a more likable candidate. Ann Romney shared stories from the early days of their marriage, praising her husband's generosity and selflessness. She also appealed to female voters, one of Obama's most important voting blocs.
Like his wife, Romney devoted part of his speech to courting women voters, highlighting female Republican governors, as well as his hiring of women in the public and private sectors.
Romney's most assertive moments came when he defended Bain Capital, the company he co-founded in 1984, as "a great American success story." The Romney campaign initially touted it as a selling point for their candidate, but Obama and his surrogates have used Romney's time at the company to paint him as a heartless capitalist who shuttered businesses and outsourced jobs for personal gain.
Romney pointed to Obama's lack of private sector experience, which he called a basic qualification for the presidency.
"In America, we celebrate success. We don't apologize for success," Romney said.
Delegate Kelly Schulz, a Frederick County Republican and member of the House of Delegates, described the speech as "inspirational and motivational."
"It's certainly going to make people work harder in these 68 days we have left," she said.
CNS Staff Writer Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report.