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High stakes for Mitt Romney in tonight's convention speech

August 30, 2012|By David Lauter
  • Stagehands make final adjustments to the expanded stage where Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will accept his party's nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Stagehands make final adjustments to the expanded stage where Republican… (J. Scott Applewhite / AP…)

Over the last two days, the Republican convention has achieved a couple of major goals, but Mitt Romney still has several remaining to address in his speech tonight accepting the party’s nomination for president.

On Tuesday night, Romney’s wife, Ann, made a strong appeal to female voters, particularly economically stressed mothers, saying that she understood the problems they face and the extra burdens they carry. Romney already has a majority among married women nationally – the big Democratic advantage is with unmarried people of both genders – but Republicans hope to push that advantage further and believe that Ann Romney can help on that score.

Republicans have also showcased a parade of Latino officeholders, hoping to narrow the yawning deficit they confront among another key voting bloc. That effort will continue Thursday night as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida introduces Romney.

Republican strategists hope that the images of Latinos on the party’s main stage, including Rubio, and Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, will help connect with voters. Most concede, however, at least in private, that the party’s fundamental problem is a policy one, involving immigration, not simply one of tone or inclusiveness.

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Wednesday night brought another significant advance, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Paul Ryan, the vice presidential nominee, vouching for Romney’s Mormon faith.

“I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country,” Huckabee said.  His strong ties to evangelical voters make him an important conduit from the Romney campaign to a key Republican constituency that, in years past, has been deeply suspicious of Mormonism.

That validation presumably opens the way for Romney to talk in a more personal way about his faith, something that he has seldom done. His reticence so far has created a hole in the public’s understanding of his biography, which some campaign strategists have said he needs to fill.

Filling in parts of his personal story is one major task for Romney’s speech. But several GOP strategists here say they don’t think that, alone, will be enough to carry the day.

“The biography point needs to be something that illustrates a bigger point,” said John Brabender, who was the chief strategist for Sen. Rick Santorum’s campaign for the nomination. “What he in some sense has to do is let people into his heart and mind a little bit and make a personal judgment about him.”

Terry Nelson, the political director for George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, who shared a panel with Brabender Thursday morning, said he believes Romney needs to connect his biography more clearly to the policies he hopes to pursue.

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“They have not gotten to the point where they have said to the American people what Mitt Romney’s vision is for the future of the country,” he said. “Most people know what he is against and what he will undo, but they don’t yet know what he is going to do and how he is going to do it. That’s the big challenge for tonight’s speech.”

Both spoke at a forum sponsored by National Journal and CBS News.

Romney’s campaign policy director, Lanhee Chen, indicated at another panel Thursday morning, sponsored by Bloomberg News, that the candidate was unlikely to unveil new, specific proposals. “This is a deeply personal speech,” he said, which would outline Romney’s “vision for America.”

Democrats, of course, already have their own ideas of Romney’s speech. The Obama campaign’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, asked what she anticipated, grabbed a word that Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom used earlier this year to describe how the campaign could shift its positions between the primary campaign and the general election.

Thursday night’s speech, she said, would be “an Etch-a-Sketch of epic proportions.”

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David.Lauter@latimes.com

Twitter: @DavidLauter

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