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Friends' anecdotes shed light on Romney's personal side

TAMPA, Fla. -- As Republicans prepared to welcome their presidential nominee to Thursday’s final session of the GOP convention in Tampa, Mitt Romney's friends and allies took on the job of persuading Americans that he's a man more worthy of their trust and their vote than President Barack Obama.

David Goldman / AP

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan walk in for a group picture with their campaign staff at the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Thursday.

A stream of character witnesses came before the delegates to testify that Romney was a man of compassion and integrity who’d devoted much of his life to helping others, both as a business executive and as a Mormon leader.

Mormon Pam Finlayson recalled how Romney cared for her family when her daughter Kate was born prematurely, suffered a severe brain hemorrhage, and was close to death.

When Romney came to visit Finlayson and her daughter in the hospital, “I could tell immediately that he didn't just see a tangle of plastic and tubes and wires; he saw our beautiful little girl, and he was clearly overcome with compassion for her.”

Although her daughter survived, she became gravely ill at age 26 and died. “In the midst of making the final decision to run for president ... when they heard of Kate's passing, both Mitt and Ann paused, to personally reach out to extend us sympathy, and express their love.”

She said, “It seems to me when it comes to loving our neighbor, we can talk about it, or we can live it. The Romneys live it every single day.”

Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., addresses the RNC Thursday, in Tampa.

Mormon Grant Bennett, who served as an assistant pastor under Romney said, “Mitt prayed with and counseled church members seeking spiritual direction, single mothers raising children, couples with marital problems, youth with addictions, immigrants separated from their families, and individuals whose heat had been shut off.”

He said, “Mitt did what he challenged us to do. He led by example.”

Bob White, one of Romney’s partners at Bain Capital, said “Our investors included pension funds, colleges and charities with noble missions. We would invest wisely and treat their money as carefully as our own.”

He added, “And when things went wrong, we would not blame others. Finally, he took decisive action. Mitt never hesitated. He made the tough decisions, coalesced the team, and moved forward.”

The testimonials to Romney’s character were delivered against a backdrop of polling data that show a likeability gap between Romney and Obama.

U.S. Olympians, including Kim Rhode, Mike Eruzione and Derek Parra, address the RNC Thursday, in Tampa, Fla.

In the most recent NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, 58 percent of respondents said Obama was the more “easygoing and likable” candidate, while only 23 percent said the same of Romney. Fifty two percent saw Obama as caring more about average people, while only 30 percent saw Romney in that light.

Emphasis on Florida
But the testimony Thursday night to Romney’s admirable qualities will be in vain if he doesn't win Florida’s 29 electoral votes.

Under most electoral vote scenarios, Florida is a must-win state for Romney. So it wasn’t surprising that Thursday’s featured speakers included Floridians: Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Connie Mack, who is the GOP Senate candidate.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to the RNC while being joined on stage by educator Sean Duffy and school choice beneficiary Frantz Placide.

Rubio, who introduced Romney, said Obama was promoting big government ideas. "Ideas that people come to America to get away from" and "threaten to make America more like the rest of the world, instead of helping the world become more like America," Rubio said.

Earlier, Jeb Bush delivered a short tribute to his brother, former president George W. Bush. “He kept us safe,” he said, drawing huge cheers from the delegates.

Then addressing Obama, Bush said, “Mr. President, it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked. In the fourth year of your presidency, a real leader would accept responsibility for his actions and you haven’t done it.”

Bush then devoted much of his speech to public education reform, giving parents the choice of which schools they children should attend.

“I know it’s hard to take on the unions. They fund campaigns. They’re well-organized,” he said , and on Election Day, union members show up. “Meanwhile, the kids aren’t old enough to vote. But you and I know who deserves a choice. Gov. Romney knows it, too.”

Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images

Republicans gather in Tampa, Florida to officially nominate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, as the party's candidates for the 2012 presidential election.