TAMPA, Fla. – Once the balloons dropped, the reviews began – and delegates and guests largely left the final night of the Republican National Convention pleased with their presidential prospects.
True, there was some confusion over Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair. And a protester briefly interrupted Mitt Romney’s address before being drowned out by chants of “USA! USA!” But after Hurricane Isaac led to a sputtering start, the convention ended on a high note.
“Home run,” said Arla Murray, a delegate and party leader from Montana, attending her fifth convention. “As Ann Romney said, he will not fail, and she knows him best.”
Susie Eckelkamp, 54, a special events planner and delegate from St. Louis, said Thursday’s speakers showed a different side of Romney, which she thought would sway undecided voters.
“I think they saw a compassionate side of him,” she said, adding that she thought he needed to emphasize this trait during the rest of the campaign. “He’s just a good, decent, honest person who isn’t showy.”
California delegate Mark Mittal of San Diego projected a bounce in the polls for Romney and his vice presidential pick, Paul D. Ryan, after the event in Tampa.
“I’m absolutely sure that this will give him a boost, and we’ll be able to maintain this level of enthusiasm into the Romney administration,” said Mittal. “We showed a united party, we showed a big tent – women, minorities – and that the focus needs to be on the economy and jobs.”
But detractors remained, particularly among the supporters of Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman whose supporters say he was treated unfairly. Some were disqualified as delegates, and ineligible to cast votes for him.
Paul delegates were well-behaved Thursday night and did not disrupt Romney’s speech, though they were easy to pick out because many did not stand and largely didn’t applaud. Some wore black armbands with Paul’s face on them. They grumbled during Romney’s assessment of foreign policy threats, saying, “That’s not true” at several points.
“Well, talk talks and walk walks. Now we’ll see if he’s a good walker,” said James Atherton, an Oregon delegate, who booed quietly as others cheered Romney’s discussion of international trade. “I’m reserving judgment.”
As Romney’s address got underway, a Code Pink protester interrupted him with shouts from the upper deck seating. She was escorted away by Tampa police.
“I said, ‘People over profits; democracy is not a business,’” said the woman, who was not dressed in the group’s trademark pink and said she was from Portland, Ore.
Those sitting around her began shouting to drown out her protest, leading others to join the chant.
“People booed,” the woman said. She shouted her protest because “it’s a very important message,” she said.
Another unexpected turn for the evening was the late-breaking announcement of Eastwood’s appearance.
His performance -- talking to an imaginary President Obama represented by an empty chair -- perplexed some. But once they figured out the routine, they appreciated the humor.
“At first I didn’t know what he was doing,” said Marilyn Miller, 54, a retired New York Police Department officer and a delegate from Brooklyn “And then I realized he was talking to Obama. It was wonderful.”
Romney’s address and the montage of speakers before him crafted an image of a steady and compassionate family man, offering a glimpse of the businessman that has rarely been seen.
“I saw a soft, soft side of him I hadn’t seen – just touched my heart,” said Wendy Centinello, a guest of a delegate from Buffalo, N.Y. She particularly enjoyed the part of Romney’s speech about the rose his father would leave for his mother on their bed each morning. “A lot of women don’t think he’s up on their issues, but he hired women,” and supported women in business, she said. “That impressed me the most. I hope the women see that side of him.”
And the speech appeared to hit the right notes for skeptics who needed convincing he was the party’s best choice.
“The sense out there is we need a change, but is Gov. Romney the right one?” said Darryl Pool, a delegate and small-business owner and from Round Rock, Texas. “This speech will reassure.”
Staff writer Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.