TAMPA, Fla. – Paul Ryan stressed what he said was a shared desire with Mitt Romney to confront the nation’s most difficult challenges in an upbeat, if ideologically unflinching, speech accepting the Republican vice presidential nomination.
The Wisconsin congressman joined other Republicans on the second night of the Republican National Convention in attempting to refocus the fall campaign on big issues, deploying diverse GOP voices to make a broad appeal to independents.
Ryan, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez received rock star welcomes from delegates in Tampa with speeches extolling nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney and the virtues of leadership.
"When Gov. Romney asked me to join the ticket, I said, 'Let’s get this done,'" Ryan said in his speech formally accepting the party's vice presidential nomination. "And that is exactly, what we’re going to do."
Ryan’s speech was both a plea for unity – he urged voters to “come together for the sake of our country” – and an emotional and ideological appeal, a type of clarion call that has endeared Ryan with conservatives.
It was arguably the most important speech of Ryan’s political career, leveling an indictment of President Barack Obama on taxes, entitlements and energy while acclaiming Romney as a decisive leader and the best-suited candidate to lead a turn around in the economy.
"These past four years we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House," he said. "What’s missing is leadership in the White House!"
The Wisconsin congressman's speech punctuated a prime-time lineup of speakers geared at painting the GOP as a party of principle and opportunity.
Rice, the former top diplomat for President George W. Bush (who was the subject of a tribute earlier in the evening, along with his father, President George H.W. Bush), weaved together her personal narrative about overcoming segregation and other barriers into a case for American exceptionalism.
Her reflection about overcoming Jim Crow laws to become secretary of state proved to be one of the evening's most emotional moments.
"The essence of America -- that which really unites us -- is not ethnicity, or nationality, or religion," she said. "It is an idea, and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. That it doesn't matter where you came from but where you are going."
Both Ryan and Rice seemed to uniquely stir passions among the Republican delegates. Rice’s speech in particular won plaudits from political observers on the left and right for its broad themes and relative lack of rhetorical firebombs.
An address from Martinez was sandwiched between Rice and Ryan. Her speech was one that made overtures to women and Latinos, and one which told the story of her own conversion from the Democratic Party to the GOP.
She downplayed political parties, and kept with a theme emphasizing the primacy of solutions over politics.
"This election should not be about political parties. Too many Americans are out of work, and our debt is out of control. This election needs to be about those issues," Martinez said. "And it is the responsibility of both parties to offer up real solutions and have an honest debate."
Earlier in the evening, delegates heard harsher criticism of Obama.
In his speech, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee made a direct appeal to his party's conservatives, mocking Obama and prominent Democratic leaders for "radical, left-wing" leadership.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty mocked Obama for his semi-regular golf games on weekends, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune said he could easily defend the president in a game of pick-up basketball -- because Obama would always go to his left.
The evening also featured a tribute to the retiring Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has attracted a devoted following in his two bids for the Republican presidential nomination.
But the carefully scripted speeches in the 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET hour on Tuesday and Wednesday were more likely to foreshadow Romney’s acceptance speech during Thursday’s culminating night of the Republican National Convention.
Romney aides said Wednesday that the former Massachusetts governor’s speech -- tied into the need for Romney to reverse negative public opinion toward him – was mostly finished. Romney watched the evening’s speeches just a few paces away from the site of his speech tomorrow, at a nearby hotel.