about abortion from Romney in his acceptance speech on Thursday night.
Part of the Akin effect has been to highlight the divergence of opinion on abortion at the top of the GOP ticket. Ryan opposes abortion except when the life of the woman is at stake, a position that would outlaw abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Romney supports exceptions in all three cases.
"I'd like to see him (Romney) become more articulate on pro-life issues. It needs to come from his life and he needs to offer compassionate answers," said Eller, a delegate pledged to former Sen. Rick Santorum.
But more talk about Akin and abortion is not what state Rep. Jason Smith, a delegate from Salem, Mo., wants to hear.
"It's a distraction, and we need to focus on turning the economy around," he said. "My goal in Tampa -- and I believe this will happen -- is presenting a good picture of the direction America has been headed and telling how it needs to be put in a different direction and in a fiscally responsible way."
Focus on Romney
Schweich, like many Missourians, has a positive view of Romney, a reason why the former Massachusetts governor is favored to win in Missouri in November.
"To me, Mitt Romney is a genuine person, a very thoughtful person, and inspirational," Schweich said.
A Post-Dispatch/News 4 survey conducted last week in Missouri shows that 44 percent of respondents view Romney favorably and 32 percent unfavorably. A survey earlier last week by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-aligned firm, found Romney's positive ratings slightly better than those who rate him unfavorably.
But Romney's popularity in conservative-trending Missouri is a far cry from his ratings around the country, a reason why an overriding goal in Tampa is to present Americans with a likeable nominee.
In an NBC News-Wall Street Journal national poll published last week, Romney was viewed positively by just 38 percent of registered voters across the nation, compared with 44 percent with an unfavorable view. (Obama's rating was 48 percent positive, 43 percent negative.) No major presidential candidate since the 1980s has entered the stretch run of a campaign with lower personal ratings.
"You also look at polls showing that Gov. Romney is seen as a far better steward of the economy," said Romney strategist Russ Schriefer. "We think that at the end of the day, people are going to be more concerned about jobs and their livelihoods and ability to make ends meet."
Analyst Stu Rothenberg, a commentator and publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Report, said Romney has two goals in Tampa, one of which is to "turn the discussion away from Todd Akin and 'legitimate rape' and back to the topic of jobs and the economy."
Goal No. 2? Romney needs "to make himself warmer, more friendly and likeable," he said.
Both parties try mightily to present a good show at their national conventions. The stage at the Tampa Bay Times Forum will be surrounded by 13 oversized video screens in what organizers describe as "a Frank Lloyd Wright piece of inspired architecture."
Nonetheless, political conventions have steadily lost their luster, a reason why networks have cut back on coverage and why it has become vogue for politicians like McCaskill to declare that they're skipping theirs altogether.
Not since 1976 in Kansas City, when neither Gerald Ford nor Ronald Reagan entered the GOP convention with enough delegates to secure the nomination, has a convention had real intrigue. (Ford eventually won.)
Nonetheless, conventions matter. They offer a prime chance for political parties to reach voters when many are tuning into the presidential election for the first time. Taxpayers shell out $18 million to support each convention, and many want their money's worth. Four years ago, Obama's acceptance speech in Denver commanded a television audience of 38.4 million viewers, a robust rating. A week later at the GOP gathering in St. Paul, John McCain drew an even bigger audience of 38.9 million people.
Conventions yield memorable events. A masterful speech at the Democrats' 2004 gathering in Boston by Obama, an obscure state senator from Illinois, planted the seeds for his rapid rise. Likewise, in 2008, Sarah Palin delivered an electrifying speech in St. Paul before encountering difficulties later as the Republicans' vice presidential candidate.
Despite minute-by-minute planning, these quadrennial gatherings often produce surprises and embarrassments: then-Gov. Bill Clinton's 33-minute speech in Atlanta in 1988 that went way beyond its time slot; Jimmy Carter's fruitless attempt at a conciliatory handshake from Edward M. Kennedy in New York in 1980; Pat Buchanan's "culture war" speech at the 1992 Republican gathering in Houston.
"There are a lot of loose cannons in the party," noted Rothenberg, ticking off the names of a few who likely will be looking for microphones in Tampa. "And we have so many national media reporters and cable outlets looking for somebody who is going to say something ridiculous or outrageous."
Despite the uncertainties, Cole, who is leading the Missouri delegation, expects success.
"We're going to tell the great story of Mitt Romney -- his family, his business career, his faith that is so integral to his life; the man who saved the Olympics in Salt Lake City," he said. "We're going to contrast that with the failed policies of this administration and ask the American people if they're better off now than they were three-and-a-half years ago."
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