(ABC7, AP) - Mitt Romney launched his fall campaign for the White House tonight with a rousing, remarkably personal speech to the Republican National convention and a prime-time audience Thursday night, 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.
He recounted his youth as a Mormon, son of parents devoted to one another, then 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."
Introducing the nominee, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Mitt Romney knows what makes America exceptional.
Rubio told the GOP convention Thursday night that Romney understands prosperity doesn't happen because the government spends more money, that it happens because people use their own money to open businesses.
Rubio says the problem with President Barack Obama isn't that he's a bad person - it's that he's a bad president who favors tired ideas like big government.
The first-term senator and Cuban-American is a rising GOP star and a tea party favorite. He was reported to be among Romney's running mate choices.
Republicans hope Rubio can boost Romney, who is having a tough time winning over Latino voters.
At the souvenir shop inside the RNC convention run by the Glen-Burnie-based GOP Shoppe, owner Brian Harlin - also a Maryland delegate - says buyers were eager to show support for the Romney/Ryan ticket.
"The shops doing great," Harlin says. "Craziness the last couple of days. We've had people coming in from all over the country in here - wanting to get some memorabilia to bring back to friends and family."
Hot items are the t-shirts, iPhone cases and for those who really one to wrap themselves up in Romney/Ryan gear, there are bestselling beach towels.
Last night - enthused by Paul Ryan's speech, Washington-area delegates said they are especially excited for Mitt Romney to make this case to America Thursday night.
"That we are going to do it! We're not going to say what Barack Obama's been doing - promises. We have the experience to do what America wants us to do," says Virginia delegate Wendell Walker.
D.C. delegate Rich Count, 27, acknowledges most of his young black friends still believe in Barack Obama. But he's ready for Mitt Romney to convince them otherwise.
"We're going to make sure that we've got strong support in every state and every city and every town," Counts says.
Some Washington-area delegates, excited after Paul Ryan's speech, hoped Romney makes an even more powerful case for his candidacy.
"We need to hear from Mitt that he is the principled man that we know he is, the business leader that will lead this country back to the greatness that it once had," Kathy Szeliga, a Maryland delegate, says.
There was no shortage of advice for Romney from armchair speechwriters on all sides.
Jeb Bush, the brother and son of former presidents, said it was critical for the normally reserved GOP nominee to connect with people on an emotional level - even if he's never going to be "a new-age kind of guy."
"Where it matters is connecting with other people's concerns," Bush said in a round of morning talk show interviews.
Only then, he said, will voters be ready to hear the candidate's case. Overnight convention planners transformed the convention stage, extending it about 12 feet to move the candidate closer to the audience. A glass barrier surrounded the bottom steps.
In a brief preview of Thursday night's speeches, Republican officials said members of the Mormon church, former business associates of Romney, including Staples President Tom Stemberg, and past Olympic athletes will help introduce the Republican candidate.
As part of his introduction, Romney appeared prepared to discuss his Mormon faith in more direct terms than usual, a direction signaled by running mate Paul Ryan on Wednesday night in several allusions to the duo's differing religions but "same moral creed."
The Wisconsin congressman, a deficit hawk who's become the party's darling since joining the ticket, offered a prime-time testimonial setting up Romney's turn on the stage in the Republican National Convention's finale.
The Obama campaign was quick to pick apart Ryan's address, releasing a new Web video with a fact-check of what it said were inaccuracies in the congressman's criticisms of the president, and branding the GOP ticket wrong for the middle class.
In the warm-up for Romney's speech, the Democrats also released a second Web video highlighting past criticisms of Romney on his record as Massachusetts governor and his budget priorities.
After a two-day campaign tour through college towns, the president was staying out of the spotlight Thursday, ceding center stage to Romney.
But in an interview with Time magazine released Thursday, Obama said he was hopeful for a more productive second term if re-elected, because "the American people will have made a decision. And, hopefully, that will impact how Republicans think about these problems."
"My expectation is that there will be some popping of the blister after this election, because it will have been such a stark choice," Obama said.
The president added that he needs to do a better job of communicating his goals to the American people - both during the campaign and what he hopes will be a future inaugural address and more State of the Union speeches.
The interview was conducted last week. If history is a guide, viewership of Romney's speech - and Obama's address to his Democratic convention next week - will be surpassed only by the audience for their coming debates.
The first night of the GOP convention drew an estimated 22.3 million TV viewers, the vast majority over 55.
The Nielsen ratings company said that figure was down from the 23.1 million who watched the first full night of the 2008 convention, which nominated John McCain.
Nielsen said just 1.5 million of those who watched Tuesday's convention session were in the 18-34 age group.