As the speech ended and balloons fell from the ceiling, Romney was joined onstage by running mate Paul Ryan — he said, "good job, good job," in Romney's ear — and then by his wife, children and grandchildren. The grandkids chased balloons and caught confetti, with one grandson popping a balloon underneath his foot.
The whole night was orchestrated to help Romney tell his story. Speakers and videos introduced Romney as a businessman, Olympic savior and deeply religious family man. And the testimonials were intensely 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," said Romney. "We prayed together, our kids played together and we always stood ready to help each other out in different ways."
Before Romney spoke, a parade of speakers 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. Much of the list was drawn up by Romney's son Tagg.
Addressing the crowd were Bob White, a longtime friend and colleague from Bain Capital, and Tom Stemberg, the founder of Staples, the office supply store; Olympic speed skater Derek Parra and hockey player Mike Eruzione; and former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, who is still a closer adviser.
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.
As he practiced, Romney staffers were working 16-hour days in a hotel suite in Tampa to cut a video showcasing their candidate. It included several old home videos of Mitt and Ann Romney at home with their children — and even a few of just Mitt Romney when he was a kid in Michigan.
"What's your favorite type of car?" asked someone, standing outside the frame.
The answer, of course, was the car that helped his father save the automobile company he ran, American Motors.
"Rambler!" the young Romney said, laughing.
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.
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