TAMPA, Florida — Conservative members of the U.S. Republican Party set aside misgivings about their presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, as the party's nominating convention got under way Tuesday. Hours before Romney was formally nominated in a roll call of delegates from the 50 states, stalwarts of a conservative movement that fought fiercely for that nomination signaled they are ready to back Romney in November's general election.
One of the key speakers on Tuesday's convention program is Rick Santorum, a champion of traditional family values who emerged as Romney's toughest challenger in the primary process. Speaking to delegates at a nearby Tampa, Florida, hotel early Tuesday, Santorum said Romney has the right message for America.
During the primaries, Santorum had argued that Romney is too moderate to be the Republican candidate. But Tuesday, he said he was won over by Romney's selection as a running mate of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, who is known for his fiscal conservatism and opposition to abortion.
“If there's one thing that really jazzed me up over the past couple of weeks, it was the fact that Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate. And I say that because what that said to me as a conservative, what that said to me was that Mitt Romney wants to make this campaign about ideas. He wants to make this campaign about his vision, our vision.” Santorum said.
That vision includes calls for lower taxes and smaller government, as well as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Santorum, who is known for his deep religious convictions, also talked about faith, bringing up an issue that has been little addressed in the campaign so far.
“Yes, this election's about the economy, it's about job creation, it's about health care. But it's about even bigger things than that. It's about an assault on religious liberty,” Santorum said.
Up to now, Romney has said little about his own religious beliefs as a member of the little-understood Mormon Church. But Republican Congressman Randy Forbes said Romney's faith is one of his strengths.
"I'm excited that we've got two candidates. Governor Romney's committed to his faith; Paul Ryan's committed to his faith. But most importantly, I think they're going to start saying that it's okay for Americans to believe in their faith whatever it is...and to stand up for that," Forbes said.
On the convention floor, Republican speakers like Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz attacked President Barack Obama's handling of the nation's economy.
"President Obama's solution: more government, more taxes. This is not the American Dream," Chaffetz said.
The roll call vote, in which the candidate is formally chosen, was re-scheduled from Monday because of fears the convention would be disrupted by Hurricane Isaac. Those fears eased Tuesday as the storm moved away from Florida, but Isaac continued to cast a different sort of shadow over the convention.
Forecasters predicted the storm would strike the city of New Orleans with hurricane-force winds sometime Wednesday, threatening to distract attention from Romney's biggest showcase.
President Obama demonstrated his own concern, and perhaps stole a little attention from Romney, with a public appearance Tuesday morning to warn citizens in the path of the storm.
"We're dealing with a big storm, and there could be significant flooding and other damage across a large area. Now is not the time to tempt fate, now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously,'' Obama said.
The storm is also being taken seriously in Tampa. Few at the convention have forgotten the damage done to the popularity of another Republican, former President George W. Bush, by what was seen as an inadequate response when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans seven years ago.