TAMPA, Fla.-When President Obama claimed earlier this summer during a campaign stop that "If you've got a business, you didn't build that," he probably didn't realize he had just handed Republicans their theme for the first night of the Republican National Convention.
With repeated chants from the delegates of "We built it," a parade of convention speakers kicked off the week Tuesday night by telling stories of small business owners across the country who have found themselves under siege by federal government regulations. Republicans used the evening to steer the political debate back toward the nation's dire economy as Democrats continue to emphasize the controversy surrounding U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri for comments that included the phrase "legitimate rape."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire told the packed Tampa Bay Times Forum about a restaurant owner from her state who wanted to open up a second location and hire more workers. But, she added, he decided against it after he realized the expansion would trigger financial penalties under the new healthcare law signed by Obama.
"Is that what we want for small business in America-to be afraid to grow because of the government?" Ayotte asked. "President Obama hasn't even run a lemonade stand. And you know what, it shows."
Other lawmakers told similar stories, some bringing out on stage local business leaders from their state. But before the convention speakers began chronicling how recent federal regulations have suffocated small businesses, the convention delegates had one small piece of official business to conduct: One state at a time, they officially nominated Mitt Romney as the Republican Party's presidential nominee.
"President Romney … boy, I like the sound of that," declared House Speaker John Boehner.
Getting just as much attention as Romney on this first night were business owners and women. In addition to outlining the plight of the nation's job creators, convention planners also reached out to women voters by giving the stage to several prominent female Republican lawmakers, including Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. The night also included up-and-coming female GOP leaders, including Mia Love, an African-American from Utah running for Congress.
"Mr. President," Love said. "I'm here to tell you that the American people are awake, and they are not buying what you are selling in 2012."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie even began his keynote address at the end of the evening by talking about how his mother was the driver behind his family. Yet it was a nonelected female who headlined the night's showcase of Republican women.
With political pundits declaring that the Democrats have a decided edge when it comes to female voters, Ann Romney began her speech with an ode to women, declaring that it's the "moms of this nation-single, married, widowed-who really hold this country together."
She then described her and her husband's marriage as "real" instead of a storybook one by highlighting how their humble beginnings included a basement apartment where a door propped up on sawhorses functioned as a desk and a folded down ironing board served as a dining room table. After working to humanize her husband and defending his business success, Ann Romney promised the audience at the convention and watching on television that Mitt Romney would "lift up America."
"This is the man who will wake up every day with the determination to solve the problems that others say can't be solved," she said. Her husband joined her briefly on stage after the speech.
While the economy dominated the convention's speeches, social issues took center stage earlier in the day. At the Florida Aquarium a few blocks away from the convention hall, pro-life leaders and delegates gathered for a luncheon. Amid tanks filled with sting rays, sharks, and gigantic sea crabs, the pro-life supporters argued that Republican candidates should go on the offensive when it comes to promoting life issues.
"We are on the verge of reaching a cultural consensus favoring pro-life issues," said John Stemberger of Florida Family Action, "so public leaders should be bold, unashamed, and talk about pro-life issues with moral clarity."
The organizers of the aquarium handed out awards to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, giving the event the look of a consolation prize for the three former GOP presidential candidates.
Back on the convention floor the night finally belonged to rising Republican stars.
Ted Cruz, the surprise Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Texas, strolled across the stage and spoke without a teleprompter or a podium as he riled up the crowd by promising that Republicans would restore the Constitution, retake the U.S. Senate, and repeal Obamacare.
"Millions of Americans are standing up today and saying we want our country back," Cruz said.
Christie of New Jersey told the thousands in attendance and a national television audience, "We need politicians to care more about doing something and less about being somebody."
But one of the loudest and most sustained cheers of the night went to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has become a Republican rock star after taking on his state's labor unions and surviving a recall election earlier this year. The delegates' cheers for Walker drowned out the early part of his speech. Did his appearance and the audience's adoration foreshadow a more central role for Walker in the 2016 or 2020 conventions?
Follow WORLDmag.com's in-depth coverage of the Republican National Convention all week.