TAMPA, Fla. - Paul Ryan electrified the Republican National Convention on Wednesday with a passionate, occasionally snide and often funny speech that took unrelenting aim at U.S. President Barack Obama.
Ryan took to the stage to accept the party's nomination as Mitt Romney's running mate and to introduce himself not just to delegates, but to Americans, many of whom had barely heard of him until Romney tapped the Republican party's fiscal restraint guru earlier this month.
"After four years of getting the run-around, America needs a turnaround, and the man for the job is Gov. Mitt Romney," Ryan said before introducing his wife, Janna, and his three children to the cheering crowd at the Tampa convention centre.
Ryan, whose proposals to reduce the country's massive federal deficit have been met warily by the Americans who are familiar with him, took particular aim in his speech at so-called Obamacare, the president's signature piece of legislation that has brought health insurance to millions of previously uninsured Americans.
"The president has declared that the debate over government-controlled health care is over. That will come as news to the millions of Americans who will elect Mitt Romney so we can repeal Obamacare," Ryan said.
His speech was rife with Obama ridicule. He assailed Obama as a wild over-spender, although Ryan himself voted in favour of both the multi-billion-dollar auto industry and bank bailouts. He mocked Obama's recent suggestion that his mistakes in office have involved a failure to communicate.
"He said his job is to 'tell a story to the American people' as if that's the whole problem here? He needs to talk more, and we need to be better listeners?" Ryan said incredulously as the crowd leapt to its feet.
"Ladies and gentlemen, these past four years we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House. What's missing is leadership in the White House."
Young Americans in particular, he added, deserve better than Obama as they struggle to find work amid a slow-as-molasses U.S. economic recovery.
"College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life," he said.
"I hope you understand this too, if you're feeling left out or passed by: You have not failed, your leaders have failed you."
The 42-year-old Ryan, a staunch social conservative, teared up briefly when describing his mother, who struggled to make ends meet after her husband died when she was 50, as his "role model." He also affectionately ribbed his straitlaced running mate.
"We're a full generation apart, Gov. Romney and I. And in some ways, we're a little different. There are the songs on his iPod, which I've heard on the campaign bus and on many hotel elevators," he said to roars of laughter from delegates.
"He actually urged me to play some of these songs at campaign rallies. I said: 'I hope it's not a deal-breaker, Mitt, but my playlist starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin.'"
Ryan's speech followed one by Condoleezza Rice, whose rousing remarks prompted immediate speculation on the convention floor about a return to politics for George W. Bush's one-time secretary of state.
"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."
Unlike New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's speech a night earlier, Rice repeatedly lauded Romney as the man who can return America to greatness.
It took Christie more than 15 minutes to make mention of Romney, and his heavy focus on his upbringing was widely considered more an advertisement for a potential run for president in 2016 and less an endorsement of Romney. Romney, indeed, looked pained throughout Christie's remarks as he sat in the VIP box.
Rice, on the other hand, didn't touch on her own personal circumstances until the end of her remarks in a message on personal accountability that delighted the crowd.
"On a personal note — a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham, the most segregated big city in America," she said.
"Her parents can't take her to a movie theatre or a restaurant, but they make her believe that even though she can't have a hamburger at the Woolworth's lunch counter, she can be president of the United States, and she becomes the secretary of state."
America makes the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect, Rice said.
"But of course it has never been inevitable — it has taken leadership, courage and an unwavering faith in our values."
Rice was rumoured to be on Romney's short list as a potential running mate. But she has long insisted she has no interest in returning to politics, and reiterated it repeatedly on Wednesday in several media interviews.
Romney's choice of Ryan, meantime, has yet to have much of an impact on the White House hopeful's standing in the polls, although his No. 2's barn-burner of a speech on Wednesday night could provide that treasured post-convention bounce in public opinion surveys.
Before the convention, Romney was still running neck-and-neck with Obama, with the president even inching ahead in some key swing states. That's a rarity in U.S. politics for an incumbent president leading in tough economic times.
A recent Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll suggests Americans are all over the map about Ryan, branding him as "intelligent," "conservative" and "unknown."
Ryan's prime-time speech at the convention presented an opportunity for him to introduce himself to the respondents who described him as "unknown," anyway.
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