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Evans

Was the Convention Enough for Romney?

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Aug 31, 2012

 Did the Republican Convention do what Mitt Romney needed it to do? Republicans went into the convention with three goals. They succeeded with two. Whether that is enough, time will tell.

First, they needed to prove that President Obama needed to be fired. This was the easy task of the convention and the GOP was successful. The GOP even did a good job of making it easy for voters to fire ("not a bad man, just a bad president"). 

Second, the convention wanted to humanize Mitt Romney after the deluge of personal attacks the Obama campaign and Democratic groups have run. This they had good success with this week. Ann Romney, the film before the 9pm hour last night, and other testimonials, as well as Mitt's own speech (desire to spend one more day with kids, and knowledge of how his mother found out his father died) countered the Democratic narrative of the heartless businessman. The potential problem is that there is no one story that sticks with you so that when the attacks come, as they inevitably will, voters will remember the story to counter the attack. 

Third, the convention wanted to prove that the nation should hire Romney. This the convention failed at.  Tuesday and Wednesday nights were dedicated to explaining the problems with Obama which left the vision thing to Romney. Like the previous speakers, Romney spoke primarily in platitudes. He did not get to his 5 point plan until the end of the speech.  Compared to past presidential nominee acceptance speeches, Romney's speech was almost devoid of policy content. How much this matters is up to debate? I would think that voters would want to hear how the candidate and party would help them. And when you consider that your opponent's theme is "Forward," there may be an even greater reason to emphasize that you have specific plans to move the nation forward. 

Fourth, there is a question whether people will get Romney's message. The first part of the convention was overshadowed by Hurricane Isaac and today's coverage is split between Romney and Clint Eastwood. The GOP hoped that all people would talk about today is Romney and his speech. Instead, the message is split between Romney, Eastwood, and process stories about how this could occur. Other than mixed messages, the problem is that the national networks started with the Eastwood speech which, while appealing to Republicans, might turn off independent voters. On the other hand as Jonah Goldberg points out, many people who did not hear Eastwood's speech will search for it and will hear an American Icon explaining why Obama should be fired. That may work in Romney's favor. 

Finally, the success of the convention will not really be known until mid-September.  Conventions typically have a bounce or spike in public support. The challenger's convention bounce is usually larger than the incumbent's because the challenger is less well-known. Typically, the bounce dissipates after a week one way or the other. The question here is how the Democrats use their convention and will they continue to hammer and define Romney and his policies. Since the GOP Convention was devois of policy, it allows Democrats to define GOP policy in less favorable terms.  After a week after the Democratic convention, we can look at polls and see where everyone is located.  If Mitt is tied or slightly ahead, he is in good shape. If he is behind, he probably missed a golden opportunity at the convention. That just puts more pressure on Romney in the debates.