Convention anticipates Romney's moment of truth

Thu, Aug 30, 2012, 01:00

MITT ROMNEY will stride on to the stage tonight to deliver the most important speech of his career.

The grand finale of the Republican convention caps Mr Romney’s six-year quest for the party’s nomination, after a three-day warm-up act starring his wife, Ann, and a host of Republican also-rans and ambitious hopefuls.

Despite his reputation for stiffness, Mr Romney has shown in the past an ability to rise to the occasion, especially with a well-written text on the teleprompter.

He is certain to vaunt his successful business career as proof that he can fix the US economy. He will portray Barack Obama as a failed president, and will emphasise his belief in American exceptionalism and the necessity of maintaining the most powerful military in the world.

It’s a narrative well known to the convention delegates, a strong proportion of whom are, like Mr Romney, white, ageing business people. They are certain to give him a rapturous reception, as they did Mrs Romney on Tuesday night.

Mr Romney must strike a delicate balance between pleasing the party’s conservative base and further alienating single women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities.

He needs to reach a wider, prime-time television audience that includes millions of independent or undecided voters. For that reason, he’s likely to avoid divisive issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration.

Mr Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, had only 18 days after his candidacy was announced to prepare for his address to the convention – also billed as the most important of his career. By choosing Mr Ryan, the most hawkish budget hawks and a social conservative renowned for his opposition to abortion, Mr Romney secured the support of many doubters.

“If there’s one thing that’s really jazzed me up over the past couple of weeks, it’s that Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan,” said the failed candidate Rick Santorum, who like Ryan is a conservative Catholic.

“Mitt Romney is running as a conservative . . . And if you had any questions, Paul Ryan puts an exclamation point on that.”

A USA Today/Gallup poll on the eve of the convention showed that 38 per cent of Americans view Mr Ryan favourably, 36 per cent unfavourably, making him the most controversial non-incumbent vice-presidential nominee in a generation.

With his speech last night, Mr Ryan hoped to quell fears that he may be too young, at age 42, or too inexperienced, to serve as president in the event of Mr Romney being elected but not completing his term.

“Obviously, I have a lot more experience than Barack Obama did when he became president,” boasted Mr Ryan, who has been a Congressman for 14 years, to Fox News.

In attacks on Mr Ryan, the Obama campaign has concentrated more on what it portrays as his extreme views than inexperience. A Democratic briefing paper questions his foreign policy credentials six times; his stand on abortion and women’s rights 26 times.

In the US the next election is always just around the corner and Mr Ryan’s status as vice-presidential nominee has propelled him to first place in what Prof Peter Feaver of Duke University calls “the off Broadway debut for the 2016 campaign”.

As Mr Ryan prepared to speak last night, he would have remembered that it was then senator Barack Obama’s electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic convention in Denver that set him on the path to the White House.

Observers wondered if Mr Ryan would revert to his pre-selection role as hard-right ideologue, or under pressure from Mr Romney, soften his message to appeal to more moderate voters.

Mr Ryan this week praised his running mate as “the man of the moment”. Florida senator Marco Rubio, another 2016 hopeful who will introduce Mr Romney tonight, has called him “a role model”.

A friend from the Mormon church will speak of Mr Romney’s role as a student missionary in France and lay clergyman in Boston.

Former Olympic athletes will praise his stewardship of the Salt Lake City Olympics.

But no Romney advocate could be as compelling as his wife Ann, whose performance on Tuesday night, in a red (the party’s colour) satin dress, against a photo backdrop of the Romneys as young sweethearts, received rave reviews in American media.

“You can trust Mitt,” said Mrs Romney, winning a standing ovation with her emphatic, carefully enunciated statement that “this man will not fail”.

The immigrant experience and rags-to-riches success figured in most of the convention speeches. Mrs Romney talked of her grandfather, a Welsh coal miner, and her father who washed bottles near the colliery as a child before he emigrated to America.

Mr Romney’s father, George, never went to college and worked as a carpenter before he became head of American Motors and governor of Michigan, she noted.

“There were many reasons not to get married. We just didn’t care,” said Mrs Romney, speaking of their marriage at ages 19 and 22.

The story of newlyweds living in a basement apartment, eating tuna and pasta off an ironing board that doubled as a table, was apparently meant to mitigate the Romneys’ image as remote and fabulously wealthy.

Mrs Romney said repeatedly that her husband “makes me laugh”. He has demonstrated little humour on the campaign trail.

Mrs Romney said she wanted to talk about “the deep and abiding love I have for a man I met at a dance many years ago”.

At the end of her speech, Mr Romney walked on to the stage and embraced his wife while the band played the 1965 Temptations hit My Girl.

Mrs Romney praised American women, who she said were hurting even more than men under the Obama administration. In an attempt to improve the Romney-Ryan ticket’s poor standing with female voters, she and Mr Ryan’s wife, Janna, yesterday attended a Women for Romney breakfast.

Mrs Romney went on to a children’s hospital and a lunch with the Latino coalition. Women, Hispanics and Blacks – including former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice last night – have been given prominent speaking slots at the convention.

Mrs Romney’s message of love seemed to jar with the keynote address by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who said his Sicilian mother told him that if he had to choose “between being loved and being respected” he should choose respect.

“Tonight, we are going to choose respect over love,” Governor Christie said to cheers. In a speech geared to working-class white voters, a constituency that Mr Romney needs to win the election, Governor Christie said the Obama administration was lying about the state of the country, while “Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear”.

Governor Christie, whose humour and brash manner have made him one of the best known and best loved Republicans nationally, is also a 2016 hopeful. He spoke far more about himself than he did about Mitt Romney.

Racist insults delegates ejected

Two people were ejected from the convention for throwing nuts at an African-American camera operator for CNN and telling her: “This is how we feed animals,” the cable network said.

The incident happened on Tuesday in the Tampa Bay Times forum.

“Two attendees tonight exhibited deplorable behaviour. Their conduct was inexcusable and unacceptable. This kind of behaviour will not be tolerated,” CNN quoted the convention as saying in a statement.

Multiple witnesses saw the incident and convention security and police immediately removed the two people from the forum, CNN said. – (Reuters)