Saturday, September 01, 2012

Race for the White House

66 Days Until Election Day

Welcome to September and to Labor Day Weekend. The Presidential general election is kicking into high gear as Republicans have just wrapped up their national convention in Tampa Bay, while Democrats will convene the day after Labor Day (pretty late by historical standards) in Charlotte.

Mitt Romney is now officially the Republican Presidential nominee. For someone like myself, who has twice supported his Presidential campaigns, since before he even entered the races, this is a very exciting and prideful time for me. After the past week, other Republicans, who may not have always been in love with Mitt Romney the person or politician are far more enthusiastic about him and his campaign than ever before.

By most measured standards, the Republican National Convention was a success. While Hurricane Issac was a devastating storm for some people, it did not have the horrible impact that some had feared. A week ago, it had just been announced that Day 1 of the GOP convention had been cancelled, but the rest of the program went on, without much in the way of a news distraction or questions about whether the convention should go on amidst potential suffering. Everything seemed to fit just fine in three days, and that will likely be the new time standard for all future political conventions.

To be sure, during the pro forma business of the convention, such as approving the national party rules for the next four years and the roll call vote of the states, there was a bit more of a ruckus than conventions have seen in recent years, largely due to Ron Paul supporters. Those demonstrations passed rather quickly though and the party certainly seemed to be united during the rest of the convention. There appeared to be very little in the way of protests outside the convention hall as compared to recent past cycles, and much less than I expected inside the hall as well. All of these fortunate circumstances allowed Republicans the opportunity to put their best foot forward in a close election.

Based on everything, I think the party and its candidates accomplished exactly what they wanted. The theme of "We Built It", in response to Barack Obama's recent comments about small business was omnipresent and there was also much focus on trying to win over Latino voters and women. Interestingly, there seemed to be quite a push to also appear to twentysomethings and recent college graduates, who might have supported Obama in 2008 but are now struggling in the economy. There was quite a psychological effort underway to give those who once believed in Obama the permission to cut their emotional ties with him and move on towards a candidate that may not move them as much personally, but who many others believe can turn the economy around. Much was done to try to "humanize" Mitt Romney as a husband, father, faith-based leader, and also to legitimize his business career and the fact that he has been so financially successful and is very wealthy. To any Republicans who might have had qualms about Romney in the primaries, the matters of him being rich and being Mormon appear to no longer be any sort of negatives with the party base.

I could gush for quite a while about everything that happened at the convention. There were a lot of speakers, especially Governors, who did not speak in primetime or network television, but gave excellent remarks in the relatively short amount of podium time they had. The 2012 election is obviously the matter of most importance to Republicans, but it is clearer than ever that the GOP has one heck of a strong and diverse bench moving forward.

Just briefly, I will go ahead and offer some comments on the speakers that addressed the convention during the main prime time hour, in the order of which they spoke. I will do the same for the Democrats next week, assuming I am able to stomach watching them.

Besides for the Presidential nominee himself, potential First Lady Ann Romney had perhaps the most important speech of the convention. To be simple, I thought she was a superstar. As someone who has seen and studied convention history, I think she gave the best speech ever given by a candidate's wife. While not a professional politician, her delivery was solid and confidant and I think she made many people come across more favorably disposed of her husband Mitt. Great job!

Next, came the official keynote address of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, which occurred after Ann Romney had mesmerized the hall. It was a tough act to follow and Christie has gotten some mixed reviews. I thought he was solid but not spectacular. I envision that a lot of people changed the channel after Ann Romney spoke and when Christie came on. He gave a high-minded speech, which focused in large parts of his governance of New Jersey and compromises achieved. Where Mrs. Romney's speech was aimed at women, it seemed like Christie was trying to appeal to working class men. Many made note that he did not talk about Romney until close to the end of the speech (my recollection is that he spoke more about the GOP ticket in his speech than 2004 Democrat keynoter Barack Obama did in his famous national political debut) and some on the right were more disappointed he did not mention Obama by name and was not nearly as blusterous or critical as some expected. Again, I thought he was more than fine, but in some ways, the speech, its themes, and its tone, appeared slightly out of place. Originally, Mrs. Romney and Christie were to speak on different nights.

Wednesday night saw former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice deliver a prime time address, which she apparently did from just notes, and not a teleprompter. This was her first address to the convention since 2000 and she spoke far more about domestic issues than she ever has before. Some believe she could indeed have future political aspirations, though she denies that. She also of course spoke much about foreign policy and America's role in the world. Her delivery can be a bit wooden and academic, but when she going towards the end this week, the crowd was captivated. One of the highlights of the entire convention was how she talked about being a child in the segregated south who was told by her parents that even though she could not eat a hamburger at Woolworth's she could grow up to one day be President of the United States.

Next came New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, though the major news networks did not televise her speech. I have never really seen her speak before, and I came away completely impressed about her as a political figure with a bright future. The crowd in the hall loved her and the first Latina to ever become a Governor is definitely someone to keep an eye on in the years to come.

Wrapping up night two was the Vice Presidential acceptance speech of Congressman Paul Ryan. Four years ago, Sarah Palin's giving of that speech was the most memorable moment of the entire convention. Ryan's speech may not have had the exact same impact, but inside the hall, the audience was just as enthusiastic as Palin's had been. I thought it was a great performance by Ryan and a wonderful optimistic articulation of conservatism. Jack Kemp, Ryan's mentor and former boss, and someone I grew up almost idolizing would have been very proud. I heard so much of Kemp's influence in the remarks.

Just about every Republican believes Ryan gave a great speech, but Democrats (perhaps also fearing the impact) were quick to claim that Ryan had been less than honest from their perspective on their claims. Republicans fired back against the fact checkers with their own facts, and it will all be a part of the debate for partisans and political junkies to wrangle over. I thought the words that Ryan used in talking about the GM plant in Janesville closing were precise and can be considered totally factually accurate, even if the Democrats scream that it was unfair. The fact is that to the audience watching, the point hit home and hurt Obama, and Democrats realize that as well.

Thursday night was the big night and the "surprise" guest who had been subject to much speculation was 82 year old actor (and former small town Mayor) Clint Eastwood who gave a much talked about and often bizarre presentation in which he addressed (and dressed down) an empty chair in which he pretended Obama was sitting. People will either love what Eastwood did or hate it. Just about everybody in the pundit class hated it and many Republicans who are worried about how things come across politically were horrified by what they were seeing.

I really do not know what to think. It was definitely different but it was the kind of unscripted moment at a convention we have not seen in a while and may never see again. Apparently, Eastwood went on for more than twice as long as he was expected to and convention organizers had no idea that he was going to do the empty chair bit. When the books about this campaign are written, I will love to hear the story behind it. While it is true that Eastwood garnered so much attention, that Romney's big speech might have had to compete with it in some ways, I also think Eastwood did something that the professional comedians are unwilling to do. He made it socially acceptable to make fun of Barack Obama. Certainly, the video of his appearance is going viral, and while Eastwood, an American icon, will obviously piss off many liberals, he is going to cause a lot of other people to stop and think about what he was saying about Obama, perhaps for the first time.

Next, came the speaker who was to introduce Mitt Romney, but who also had to deal with the aftermath of the Eastwooding segment. Florida Senator Marco Rubio flubbed a big line at the end of his speech, in which he transposed the words "government" and "freedom" (sort of a big deal) but other than that, I thought he gave one of the best speeches of the entire convention, as he talked about his family background and how the American Dream made his life and career possible, as well as that of Romney's. I consider it to be one of the most eloquent convention speeches given in quite some time and while it likely will not garner these comparisons, I thought it was on par with Mario Cuomo in 1984 and Barack Obama in 2004. I think Rubio will be someone talked about as a potential President for quite some time (and perhaps Republicans might one day be faced with a Rubio vs. Ryan dilemma), and I probably would have given him Chris Christie's time slot this year.

Finally, it was time for the Mittster. Few expected him to rhetorically blow the roofs off of any arenas, and in some ways, Romney made it clear he was running more of a man of substance, in contrast to the buzz surrounding Obama as a speaker in 2008. Even most of Romney's critics though believed he gave the best speech he has ever given and should get high marks.

To be clear, Mitt Romney is not a William Jennings Bryan or a Ronald Reagan when it comes to oration, but he was calm and confident in delivering his remarks, the crowd loved it, and I think it came across very well on television also. It was heavy on the biography, including mention of his religion, and much about Bain Capital. He continued what his wife had done in "humanizing" himself, and I think appropriately criticized Obama in a tone that was more sorrowful than angry. I was quite pleased with how my candidate performed, and I think he did everything he needed to (though the word Afghanistan apparently did not appear in the speech.) Liberals and left-standing media figures found a couple of lines in the speech that really got them angry of course (while conceding that he was quite good in other parts) and the fact that they got upset is good news as far as I am concerned as well. Ultimately, the impact of Mitt Romney's nomination acceptance speech will be left to history.

The GOP Convention is now over, and the Republican nominee was the first to tour hurricane ravaged Louisiana (perhaps causing Obama to reshuffle his own Labor Day schedule for his own trip there now.) The political stage for the next week will mostly belong to the Democrats, although many GOP surrogates, and Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan are not expected to be silent in taking on what Democrats are saying.

I would definitely say it is better for a party (and it is always the incumbent party) to be able to have the second convention and react to what has been said, but in a year when the two confabs are running back to back, and with the Democrats just re-nominating incumbents, I am not sure what the impact will be this year. There really will not be much news to occur in Charlotte or anything for the general public to get excited about (unlike the Sarah Palin situation four years ago). It seems as if Democrats are looking towards former President Bill Clinton to be their convention MVP and make their case more effectively than anyone else will.

Look for the convention speakers to be unbelievably negative and on the attack against Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Republicans. Since they will not want to talk about the economic record as much, Democrats are likely to place much emphasis on social issues, such as abortion and try to falsely claim that Republicans are trying to take away contraception from women. The name of Todd Akin will probably be spoken at the convention nearly as much as the name of Mitt Romney as well. While the other speakers will be on the attack, I would not at all be surprised if Barack Obama uses his time to give a speech that largely stays above the fray and barely mentions Romney, if at all. He will want people to think that his campaign is the less negative one.

To wrap up, I still maintain that while the GOP convention was a great success (and while Democrats will probably put on an effective show as well), there will not be any great bounce in the horse race numbers between the Presidential candidates. Already, I think the media has tried to set up unrealistic expectations for a Romney bounce. However many points the GOP ticket may have gained in the past week could be somewhat negated by the advantage the Democrats should have of going next. All things considered, I think it was a tied race nationally entering convention season, and will be a tied race when that is all done. The Republican grassroots based though is more excited than ever to work for the party in this campaign year and it remains to be seen if Democrats will be able to say the same. The truly undecided voters are not going to make up their minds until after the debates most likely and the election will be decided in the final 25 days, perhaps not even until the final three or four days.

So, while Republicans should not expect to suddenly see Mitt Romney leading Obama in national polls by significant margins next week (and perhaps not even really at all), if these polls start to show Romney's personal favorability numbers have improved, the convention will have worked as intended, and the challenger to an incumbent presiding over economically troubled times, will be in a stronger position for ultimate victory.

The candidate who wants to help you and your family: