TAMPA, Fla. — Party conventions long ago stopped picking the presidential nominees and rarely have much impact once the sound bites fade and the last confetti gets swept away.
The exceptions came in 1968 for the Democrats and 1992 for the Republicans, when voters were repelled by what they saw (rioting in the streets of Chicago) and heard (a sharp right turn on social issues inside the convention hall in Houston). There was nothing at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, save Clint Eastwood’s free-form performance of a man and his chair, that was not carefully scripted and sanitized to avoid just such a result.
For that reason, whether Mitt Romney wins or loses in November, it is doubtful anyone will look back and say the election was decided this week in the swampy heat of Florida. (Nor, for that matter, next week in Charlotte, N.C., when the Democrats gather for their big bash.)
Photos: Romney accepts GOP nomination
Still, the convention that crowned Romney and his running mate, Paul D. Ryan, featured both achievements and missed opportunities.
One of Romney’s big goals was to add some flesh and humanity to the image many voters have of the former Massachusetts governor. He delivered an acceptance speech that showed who he is: a man conservative in values, devoted to family and church, grounded in the business world and experienced in turning around tough situations. Like Romney himself, the delivery was crisp, polished and not very exciting.
It was also measured in tone, demonstrating what Rob Stutzman, a GOP consultant and onetime Romney strategist, called a turn away from “the angry white party of Republican primary politics.”
The GOP nominee needed to address the party’s serious support deficit among women and Latinos, and the ticket had some help, especially from Romney’s wife, Ann, who delivered an affectionate tribute. There were also strong speeches from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visually broadening the party beyond the upper-crust white males on the ticket.
Ryan displayed the youth and exuberance that Romney, 65 and almost preternaturally cautious, lacked. His acceptance speech Wednesday night stamped the Wisconsin congressman as one of the party’s brightest stars and helped frame the contest as one of big choices between starkly different views of government — as helpmate, the way Democrats see it, or hindrance, in the Republican view.
But Romney carried most of the burden in his 38-minute address, the convention capper, and made some points that could resonate through the fall.
In perhaps the most effective line of the speech, he mocked the grandiosity of Obama’s 2008 campaign by offering a simple, straightforward pledge. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” Romney said, pausing as some in the convention hall laughed, “and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”
He abandoned the sometimes angry and hectoring rhetoric of the campaign trail to suggest he empathized with those disappointed with — but not mad at — the incumbent. “America has been patient. Americans have supported this president in good faith,” Romney said. “But today, the time has come to turn the page.”
Hurricane Isaac shortened the convention by a day, and although it wasn’t enough to make a big difference, the schedule shuffle did make for a jarring juxtaposition when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered his keynote address right after Ann Romney spoke.
Romney talked about love. Christie said respect was more important. That’s where they left it.
Eastwood, whose appearance was a much ballyhooed surprise, used up nearly 15 minutes of Romney’s precious prime time for his odd soliloquy — time that could have been better spent, Ann Romney suggested politely but pointedly Friday on “CBS This Morning,” on the gauzy biographical video of her husband that aired in the convention hall but not on national TV.
But the biggest missed opportunity, some said, was that Romney did not speak in much greater detail on how, exactly, he plans to spur the sluggish economy and deliver on his promise to create millions of good-paying jobs.
“People already know why they don’t like Obama,” Don Sipple, a Republican strategist who helped put on the party’s 1996 convention for presidential nominee Bob Dole, said in an email. “Romney’s mission last night was to lay out what the new direction for the country would be — how it will improve YOUR life and how the country’s future will be more secure because of it.” He failed, Sipple said.
Romney will most likely rise in opinion polls taken over the next few days, gaining the traditional post-convention “bounce” that goes to the candidate who has just enjoyed several of the most flattering days of his campaign. Then it will be Obama’s turn, presenting his own best case and probably getting a boost in surveys before his poll numbers, too, settle back down.
The race will then be back where it started, before expectations rose and the balloons fell: a neck-and-neck contest that, with just a few weeks remaining, is too close to call.