LAKELAND — Mitt Romney began his first day as the Republican nominee for president in Lakeland, a city along the Interstate 4 corridor's well-trod battleground region.
Twelve hours after accepting his party's nomination, he and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan reprised segments of their convention speeches before a crowd of about 3,500 assembled on the tarmac of the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. Romney emphasized Florida's importance in the national election, reminding the audience that winning the state will require the conversion of Floridians who voted for Obama in 2008.
"That has to happen here in Florida, and for that to happen you're going to have to go find a person or two who voted for Obama," he said. "They're not as visible as they used to be," he added, joking that the glue on their Obama-Biden bumper stickers is all that's left of their ardor.
In his brief remarks, Romney played to the largely retirement-age audience, seeking to calm any worries among the elderly about his and Ryan's proposal to revamp Medicare.
"I want to make sure that every retiree knows that their retirement it secure, that Medicare is there and Social Security is there," he said.
John Drozinski, vice chairman of the Highlands County tea party, said he was impressed with Romney's re-introduction to America as a more personable candidate.
"Up until the convention, you didn't know a whole lot. I mean he was very subdued," Drozinski said. "I'm glad, in fact I'm thrilled, to see he's coming out of his shell more."
A transplant from Indiana, Lakeland resident Joy Fredel said Romney's convention speech had left her energized.
"I think it is so much better that we got to see the depth of his personality and where he came from," she said.
Lakeland is part of the I-4 corridor stretching from Tampa to Daytona Beach that is home to 45 percent of Florida's electorate.
In a change of plans, the Romney campaign canceled a joint rally with Ryan in Richmond, Va., and instead the nominee flew to New Orleans. There, Romney met with Gov. Bobby Jindal and toured the damage left by Hurricane Isaac, which dumped more than 19 inches of rain on the city earlier this week.