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For Mitt Romney, a week of unwelcome distractions

August 27, 2012|By David Lauter
  • Mitt Romney points to his wife Ann as they arrive at the Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., to work on their speeches for the Republican National Convention.
Mitt Romney points to his wife Ann as they arrive at the Brewster Academy… (Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty…)

For eight days, the efforts of Republicans to highlight Mitt Romney’s character and accomplishments have taken a back seat to a series of distractions – first the comments about rape and abortion by Rep. Todd Akin, the party’s Senate candidate in Missouri, and more recently, the threat of a hurricane headed for the Gulf Coast.

That’s hardly a fatal combination, but it’s definitely not what the party had planned.

As Republican strategists see the race, a majority of voters have made up their minds that President Obama does not deserve reelection, but they remain hesitant to pull the lever for Romney.

“Obama is Americans’ second choice for president” right now, longtime Republican strategist Mike Murphy said at a forum here. “The challenge for Romney is to go from third to first.”

PHOTOS: The protests of the GOP convention

Much of the GOP convention is supposed to be devoted to making that happen by giving voters more of a sense of Romney as a person and by highlighting his achievements. The week leading up to the convention was meant to lay that groundwork.

Instead, Romney has been relegated to the secondary story. Starting a week ago Sunday, when Akin said that women who were victims of “legitimate rape” seldom become pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” his saga – and the speculation over whether the national GOP leadership would succeed in pushing him to drop out of the Senate race – dominated headlines. As soon as that metaphorical storm died down, a literal one, Isaac, picked up, cutting into Romney’s exposure, particularly here in Florida, a must-win state for the Republican.

That’s a problem because exposure is what drives the “bounce” that candidates usually get from a successful convention. With the media focused heavily on whichever party’s convention is underway, candidates get a rare chance to dominate the stage. They hope for a convention that produces a week of stories on television and in newspapers conveying the campaign’s main messages. When that happens – as it did for George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996 -- the result can propel a campaign forward. When it fails, as happened to Sen. John F. Kerry in 2004, the result is a crucial opportunity lost.

PHOTOS: Preparations for the convention

Romney hasn’t lost the opportunity, but the past week clearly has eroded it. That puts more pressure on the three nights remaining for the convention, now that the storm has forced cancellation of Monday’s events. Unfortunately for Romney, even those nights may not deliver an uninterrupted message. Forecasts show Isaac could slam into the Gulf Coast near New Orleans just around the time the convention formally gets under way Tuesday night.

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