TAMPA, Fla. — While Mitt Romney was clearly the main event at this week's convention, the rise of stars like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan convinced many delegates the GOP has finally left behind the party of the past decade, now so closely identified with runaway federal spending and foreign interventionism.
Many conservatives in the party wanted to see Mr. Rubio, who was given the honor of introducing Mr. Romney on Thursday, on the ticket, and the freshman Florida senator was greeted with a raucous reception.
"Mitt Romney knows America's prosperity didn't happen because our government simply spent more money," Mr. Rubio said, according to prepared remarks. "It happened because our people used their own money to open a business."
This week's convention highlighted the emergence of the next generation of GOP leadership, with Mr. Rubio, 41, and Mr. Ryan, 42, who have staked their political identities to fiscally responsible governance.
Both men have seized on the country's creeping debt and deficit, vowing to hold the line on federal spending that has ballooned since the start of the George W. Bush administration and continued under President Obama.
Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, said he remembers reading about Mr. Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future" to cut long-term spending as far back as May 2008.
"He didn't have to throw that out there," Mr. Johnson said. "We weren't facing a well-publicized financial crisis. We were in real trouble, but it wasn't a politically popular thing to do to lay out a game plan like that, but Paul did that. He had the courage. So leadership is being rewarded. And that's a very good sign."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, 44, who beat back a recall attempt in June after championing legislation that sharply curbs the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions, received one of the longest, sustained receptions of all the speakers.
"What that tells us is that America hungers for leadership," Mr. Johnson said. "And what's unique about Wisconsin is that at just this very unique moment, we've got people who have actually led."
Ms. Martinez, the first Hispanic woman governor in U.S. history, also made a name for herself with a speech that included an account of her transformation from Democrat to Republican and her memories of carrying a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum at age 18 while working for her parents' security business.
Ms. Martinez, like Mr. Rubio, offers the party a fresh face and a Hispanic leader as it competes for votes from both women and the Hispanic community.
"I thought Susana Martinez was phenomenal — I had never heard her speak before," said Tara Howey, 51, a lobbyist from Pittsburgh. "Being a woman, having a strong woman in the Republican Party is long overdue."
Speaking about a representative of a different generation, she said she was "almost embarrassed" for Arizona Sen. John McCain, who turned 76 Wednesday and devoted much of his 15-minute address championing a hawkish U.S. foreign policy.
"He was really not given the [standing] he has earned," she said.
But Heather Mellem, 38, an alternate delegate from Massachusetts, said Mr. McCain's views on defense and foreign affairs were better suited for the Republican Party of the past.
"It seemed like there were a lot more cheers in the audience for [Kentucky Sen.] Rand Paul than there were for John McCain, who I think represents the old party," she said. "We're the future of the Republican Party."
The only two living former presidents who are Republicans, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, were relegated to video appearances during the convention. With his approval ratings reaching historic lows in August 2008, George W. Bush also addressed that year's convention via video after weather nixed the first day's events in St. Paul, Minn.
"Our generation has to step aside for the younger generation, and when you see people like [Susana] Martinez and Paul Ryan, you think, 'Oh, there is hope,'" said Mary Vickers of Hernando County, Fla.
Ms. Vickers and Maureen Arrigale, who was accompanying her, were a bit cagey when asked for their ages, but both made it clear they were seniors who were nevertheless ready to embrace Mr. Ryan.
"I'm the senior that Obama claims Ryan is throwing off the cliff," Ms. Arrigale quipped.
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