News Column

Convention gives Romney a New Chance to Reach Millions

Aug. 26, 2012

Thomas Fitzgerald

Republican National Convention

Aug. 26--TAMPA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney, the man who this week claims the Republican nomination that eluded his father more than a generation ago, remains in some ways an enigma to millions of Americans despite a term as governor of Massachusetts and back-to-back runs for the White House.

What is more, Romney carries the burden of historically low favorability ratings. Though voters surveyed in national polls fault President Obama for job performance, particularly on the economy, most like him personally more than they do Romney.

The Obama campaign has spent millions reinforcing negative impressions of Romney, depicting him in attack ads as an insensitive plutocrat who wants to wipe out the middle class for the benefit of his Wall Street cronies.

Now, with the Republican National Convention that opens here Monday, Romney has a chance to fight back and to reframe the race with 70 days to go.

Thousands of delegates, donors, and journalists arrived Saturday to a steamy city overhung with gray clouds pushed north by Tropical Storm Isaac, projected to hit the Florida Keys on Sunday as a hurricane. As workers put finishing touches on the massive stage in the Tampa Bay Times Forum arena, party officials announced that the convention would open Monday but recess until the next afternoon to make way for the storm.

For all of his challenges on "likability," and with women and Hispanic voters, Romney has an opening to exploit this week. He is still running neck-and-neck with Obama in both national polls and surveys of battleground states.

And once he formally accepts the nomination Thursday night, he and running mate Paul Ryan will no longer be bound by the primaries' spending limits and can begin using their hefty advantage over Obama in general-election cash.

Romney's strategists plan to use the occasion, perhaps their last chance to convey an unfiltered message, to try to convince voters that the former private-equity executive has the economic skills the nation needs to get out of its doldrums, whether they love the guy or not. Advisers also want to use the four days of convention programming to humanize Romney, who has found it hard to connect with people on the hustings.

"You also look at some polls that show Gov. Romney as being a far better steward of the economy than President Obama," said Russ Schriefer, a top strategist who is overseeing the convention for the campaign.

"We think at the end of the day people are going to be more concerned about jobs, their livelihoods and making ends meet -- that's what this election is going to be about, the kitchen-table issues," Schriefer said.

The first night's theme, he said, was to be the failures of the Obama administration. Schriefer said, "You need to lay down the predicate and make the case" for change.

"They can't just take on Obama," said Republican media strategist Michael Hudome, an adviser to John McCain in 2008. "People like Obama. Romney needs to be the mechanic. You know, people may not like their mechanic, but they need him when they have to get their car fixed. Whether or not people would invite him over for dinner, at the end, who cares?"

With such goals in mind, much of the convention is designed to show off Romney's qualifications, including job-creating success stories from his time at Bain Capital, and his role in turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City -- complete with testimonials from athletes.

Much of Tuesday's session will center on the president's "you didn't build that" comment, in which he said government investments in things like roads and education were in part responsible for the success of businesses. Though Democrats contend its context has been twisted, the comment has become a rallying cry for Romney and the GOP, who say Obama was betraying disdain for entrepreneurs. Speakers will include small-business owners sharing their stories.

Yet his strategists cannot ignore the personal side of Romney, who has to address other challenges, including the so-called gender gap, with Obama leading by a wide margin among women voters in polls, and a GOP deficit with Latino voters.

"Just 'being Romney' hasn't worked that well so far," said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Not only does Romney need to make the case he has the know-how to lead an economic turnaround of the nation, "he's also got to reassure women that all the discussion about abortion and contraception in the last several days doesn't mean he's going to roll back the rights of women."

Last week, those social issues drowned out the economic message of the Romney-Ryan team for several days after the GOP Senate nominee in Missouri, Todd Akin, said women who are victims of "legitimate rape" rarely get pregnant. Romney and much of the Republican establishment demanded Akin withdraw, but he has refused. Jillson said Romney also will need to reach out to Hispanics -- who "heard all that harsh rhetoric about illegal immigrants and deportation in the Republican primaries."

Ann Romney, the candidate's wife, will speak about her husband's character on Tuesday -- moved to that night, which also features the keynote speaker, Gov. Christie of New Jersey, because the major networks were not planning to air the Monday session in which she was originally scheduled to speak.

The candidate will be joined by children and grandchildren, and the campaign plans to broach the subject of Romney's Mormon faith -- in particular, the pastoral work he did as a lay bishop in the church, which he has generally avoided discussing.

"We will be having several people who he worked with through his church that he helped in different times in their lives," Schriefer said. "We'll have someone who followed Gov. Romney as a leader in the church, who will talk about what it was like to fill Gov. Romney's shoes in that role."

It is not known if Romney will mention his father when he accepts the nomination, but memories of the man he has called his role model must surely loom large. George Romney, a moderate Republican who was governor of Michigan, ran for president in 1968 only to see his campaign flame out in controversy over the Vietnam War.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is not standing down. The president plans to campaign in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia during the opposition's party in Tampa. In Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, the Democrats are staging bus tours this week, highlighting what they say is the certain damage the middle class would suffer under such Romney policies as a plan to replace guaranteed Medicare health benefits with a fixed amount of money for future retirees to buy private insurance.

For its part, Tampa welcomed visitors with U.S. flags, banners, billboards -- and an uncommonly large number of strip clubs. One, the Doll House, advertised a special "Keynote Undress" program for Tuesday night.

Vice President Biden had been scheduled to be here, too, to confront the GOP -- a breach of the traditional convention cease-fire. But his trip was canceled Friday night, due to concerns he might divert law enforcement personnel needed for response to Isaac.

A Schedule of Convention Highlights*

The schedule as announced by the Republican National Committee last week. *Saturday night, officials said the convention would open Monday, then recess until Tuesday afternoon.

MONDAY

2 p.m.

National anthem, to be sung by

the Oak Ridge Boys

Opening procedural steps.

Speakers include:

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn

John Sununu, Committee on Rules chairman

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Committee on Resolutions chairman

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, Committee on Resolutions cochairman

Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Committee on Resolutions cochairwoman

Roll call for nomination of president

Roll call for vice president

7:45 p.m.

Speakers include:

House Speaker John A. Boehner

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul

Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama

Ted Cruz, Texas candidate for U.S. Senate

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

TUESDAY

Speakers include:

Actress Janine Turner

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte

Ohio Gov. John Kasich

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

Sher Valenzuela (small-business owner, candidate for Delaware lieutenant governor)

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez

Luce Vela Fortuno, first lady of Puerto Rico

Ann Romney

Gov. Christie, keynote address

There also will be a video tribute to Texas Rep. Ron Paul

WEDNESDAY NIGHT

Speakers include:

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader and convention temporary chairman

Arizona Sen. John McCain

South Dakota Sen. John Thune

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman

Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan

THURSDAY NIGHT

Speakers include:

Florida Rep. Connie Mack

Bob White, chairman of the Romney for President campaign

Former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey

Jane Edmonds, former Massachusetts secretary of workforce

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio

Presidential nominee Mitt Romney

Contact Thomas Fitzgerald

at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com, or @tomfitzgerald on Twitter. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/BigTent.

___

(c)2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services





Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer


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