TAMPA, Florida -- The polls showed a dead heat as Mitt Romney took the stage Thursday night to accept the Republican Party nomination, but the polls could not begin to capture the wild chances of improbability in what is sure to be a hard-fought campaign this fall. And the man who introduced the GOP presidential nominee Thursday night was the surest testament to how miracles happen in America.
Marco Rubio wasn't supposed to be there. In May 2009, more than 15 months before the 2010 Republican primary in Florida, the GOP establishment endorsed Rubio's opponent, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, believing him to be the "safe" choice as their party's Senate nominee. Crist had statewide name recognition and a strong fundraising base, and so he was endorsed not only by the state party chairman, but also by the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. One poll showed Crist leading Rubio by 37 points.
Crist had every tangible advantage, but what he did not have was the support of the conservative grassroots, which were just then coalescing into the Tea Party. Crist had embraced President Obama's $800 billion "stimulus" plan, and his endorsements from the GOP Establishment proved to be the kiss of death, rallying a nationwide movement behind Rubio. And so the young senator who introduced Mitt Romney on the closing night of the Republican National Convention was a living embodiment of the miraculous power of the American dream.
Rubio spoke of that dream, describing how as a nine-year-old boy in 1980 he watched the GOP convention with his grandfather, a refugee from Cuba's communist dictatorship. "As a boy, I would sit on our porch and listen to his stories about history, politics and baseball while he puffed on one of his three daily Padron cigars," Rubio told the thousands of Republican delegates gathered inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum. "I don't recall everything we talked about, but the one thing I remember, is the one thing he wanted me to never forget. The dreams he had when he was young became impossible to achieve, but there was no limit to how far I could go, because I was an American."
The crowd went positively wild with cheers and applause, and when they calmed down, Rubio continued: "For those of us who were born and raised in this country, it's easy to forget how special America is. But my grandfather understood how different America is from the rest of the world, because he knew what life was like outside America."
What Rubio was describing was a doctrine known to political philosophers as "American exceptionalism," and the 41-year-old senator went on to describe its foundation in religious belief, that America is "special because we've been united not by a common race or ethnicity. We're bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have.… Our national motto is 'In God we Trust,' reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all."
Words can scarcely describe the enthusiasm that swept through the auditorium at that moment. In a skybox suite five floors above the stage, where I was a guest of the Republican State Leadership Committee, I found myself wiping tears from my eyes. They were neutral, objective tears, because I remembered when Marco Rubio was 37 points down in the polls, and here in Tampa I was watching an honest-to-God miracle. If it had been up to the party leadership, Charlie Crist would have been up there on stage. Instead, Crist is now disgraced and discredited, an unpopular loser who will speak at next week's Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Anything can happen in America and, with less than 10 weeks to go until Election Day, it is impossible to know who will win the White House in November. The Real Clear Politics average of national polls shows a neck-and-neck race, but as of Thursday night it seemed entirely within the realm of possibility that Mitt Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, might win in a landslide. And if the Republicans do win, much of the credit will go to the ruthless efficiency of the campaign team organized by Romney. No one can deny that Romney and the Republicans put together an excellent convention. The most offbeat moment of the weeklong event in Tampa was a smashing success.
C'mon: Even the most hard-boiled liberal must admit that Clint Eastwood's Thursday night appearance was hilarious. Rambling and low-key, Eastwood improvised a comedy routine in which he "interviewed" Obama, represented by an empty chair, and drew a standing ovation when he declared, "We own this country."
The night ended with Romney's acceptance speech -- arguably his best ever, although the former governor of Massachusetts has never been famed as a spellbinding inspirational orator. But Romney made the case that inspirational oratory is no substitute for sound policy and competent leadership. "What is needed in our country today is not complicated or profound," said the former CEO of Bain Capital. "It doesn't take a special government commission to tell us what America needs. What America needs is jobs -- lots of jobs." He later mocked the absurdly irrational "hope and change" rhetoric that marked Obama's 2008 campaign: "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family."
Romney closed by invoking an America that represents "the best within each of us," and made a promise: "If I am elected President of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it. And with your help we will deliver it."
If Mitt Romney is elected president on Nov. 6, it won't necessarily be because America believes in Mitt Romney, but because Mitt Romney believes in America.
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