Jeff Zeleny

TAMPA, FLA.: Mitt Romney accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday by making a direct appeal to Americans who were captivated by President Barack Obama’s hopeful promises, saying he could deliver what the president did not and move the country beyond its economic troubles.

“My promise is to help you and your family,” Romney said in his address on the closing night of the Republican National Convention. He urged voters not to feel guilty about giving up on Obama, even if they were proud to support him four years ago as the nation’s first black president.

After a parade of speakers delighted the party faithful here all week with a scorching indictment of the president, Romney made it clear that his path to winning the White House reached well beyond Republican activists.

“If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama?” Romney said. “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.”

But Romney swiftly moved beyond his critique of Obama and used the marquee moment of his political career to connect better with voters by offering a deeper look at the chapters of his biography as a business man, a family man and a man of faith. He acknowledged one of the biggest challenges facing his candidacy, saying, “You need to know more about me.”

With 67 days remaining before Election Day, the presidential race has been essentially locked in place, with each side hoping to win over a small slice of the electorate that is still undecided in fewer than a dozen states that are the leading battlegrounds.

A look back, a look ahead

The speech loomed as arguably Romney’s most important since he began sharing his presidential aspirations nearly a decade ago. It was an opportunity to present himself to Americans who are just now beginning to tune in to this campaign and to make the case against Obama, particularly to the people who voted for him.

“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed, but his promises gave way to disappointment and division,” Romney said. “This isn’t something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we can do something.”

In the hours leading up to his speech at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Romney’s life story unspooled before the Republican delegates. Personal testimonials were intended to reshape perceptions about Romney that have hardened after a negative television advertising campaign from the president and his Democratic allies.

Business owners, longtime friends and members of his Mormon faith took the stage in an effort to humanize Romney and ultimately to help build trust among voters.

With the speech, Romney closed out his party’s convention and prepared for a quick shift of public attention to the Democrats, who will gather to formally nominate Obama to a second term next week in North Carolina.

Reaching out to women

The dynamics shaping the general election campaign, particularly the challenges facing Romney, came to life during the Republican convention and in his acceptance speech Thursday night.

Improving his standing among female voters is critical to his chances for victory, advisers said, and Romney amplified a steady theme of messages aimed at women.

“When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way,” Romney said. “I can still see her saying in her beautiful voice, ‘Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?’?”

A party that has struggled to increase its appeal to female, Hispanic and black voters featured a diverse lineup of speakers throughout the week, concluding with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who introduced Romney on Thursday evening. A favorite of tea party activists, Rubio embraced Romney as the right leader for the moment.

“Everywhere he’s been, he’s volunteered his time and talent to make things better for those around him,” Rubio said. “We are blessed that soon, he will be the president of the United States.”

Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida received booming applause when he delivered a direct message to the president Thursday evening, saying: “It is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies.

“You were dealt a tough hand, but your policies have not worked. In your fourth year of your presidency, a real leader would accept responsibility for his actions, and you haven’t done that.”

The Republican convention was teeming with excitement and optimism at the prospect of defeating Obama in November. The strong dissatisfaction with Obama helped swiftly push Republicans to rally behind Romney, who was long viewed with suspicion by many party activists over his evolving views on abortion and other social issues.

Eastwood rallies delegates

The crowd roared at its first glimpse of actor/director Clint Eastwood, the night’s surprise guest. “Save some for Mitt,” he told them.

In free-wheeling, joke-filled remarks, Eastwood remembered the enthusiasm around Obama’s nomination four years ago.

“Everybody’s crying. Oprah was crying. I was even crying,” he joked. Then he quickly pivoted to the serious. “I haven’t cried that hard since I found out there’s 23 million unemployed people in this country,” he said, hushing subsequent applause with, “That is something to cry for. That is a disgrace, a national disgrace.”

Eastwood got an adoring standing ovation by telling the delegates, “When somebody does not do the job, we’ve got to let him go.” He also drew laughs as he addressed an empty chair next to him as his guest, Obama, and pantomimed a conversation.

A party in transition

Romney is inheriting a party that is in generational and ideological transition — and that does not hold the affection for its presidential nominee that it did for, say, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.

The GOP is increasingly dominated by tea party conservatives who are pushing a platform of deep cuts in the size of government and for whom opposition to abortion rights and gay rights are almost consensus positions. But it is also dominated by divisions over tactics, as many tea party activists have rejected the politics of compromise that had been the way of life for many establishment Republicans.

Romney, speaking to an audience beyond the one inside the convention hall, sought to use the moment to rise above the bitter political sniping that has characterized much of the presidential campaign.

“The time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us,” Romney said. “To put aside the divisiveness and the recriminations.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.