Having won the nomination on his second try, Mr Romney was due to introduce himself to millions of voters on a national stage in a race against Mr Obama that could scarcely be any closer.
Republican colleagues were urging the normally reserved Mr Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, to make an emotional connection and he appeared prepared to discuss his Mormon faith in more direct terms than usual, a direction signalled by running mate Paul Ryan in allusions to their differing religions but “same moral creed.”
Polls show the presidential race is dead even, with less than three months to go before the November election. Mr Romney, a multimillionaire businessman, holds an advantage as the candidate perceived as the best equipped to revive the struggling US economy, while President Obama leads as the most likeable candidate.
Most American voters are only now beginning to tune in to the presidential race, after a bitter and extended Republican nominating contest and an unusually negative campaign in which Mr Romney and Mr Obama have relied heavily on negative advertising.
“With all their attack ads, the president is just throwing away money – and he’s pretty experienced at that,” Mr Ryan said.
The 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman, who plans to slash government spending, was particularly cutting in his indictment of the president, even in a convention loaded with anti-Obama rhetoric.
“Fear and division are all they’ve got left,” he said, adding, “Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed.”
But Mr Ryan misrepresented Mr Obama’s record at times, and seemed to forget his own, notably on Medicare, the federal health insurance programme for Americans over 65, a key concern of the USA’s vast baby boomer generation as they retire.
Mr Ryan said sharply “the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly. So they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funnelled out of Medicare by President Obama.”
In fact, Mr Ryan himself incorporated the Medicare cuts into budgets he steered through the House in the past two years as chairman of its Budget Committee, using the money for deficit reduction.
Mr Ryan, however, wants big increases in military spending, along with lower taxes, without saying how he would make good on his pledge to cut £300bn a year from the federal budget. That goal appears realistic only if they slash the Social Security pension system, Medicare, health research, transportation, homeland security and aid to the poor.
In a letter to potential Democratic donors, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Mr Ryan’s speech “represents a huge bet by the Mr Romney campaign – they’ve decided that facts, truth and reality will not be a brake on their campaign message.”
Foreign policy was finally addressed yesterday during the mostly inward-looking convention, with Condoleezza Rice, George W Bush’s Secretary of State and the first black female in that job, criticising the Obama administration’s approach to national security. “We cannot be reluctant to lead – and one cannot lead from behind,” she said.
But pressed repeatedly during an earlier interview with CBS to provide specific examples of where Mr Obama has failed on foreign policy, Ms Rice declined to offer any.