Convention Watch: Mitt’s Moment, Mormonism and Dirty Harry Jokes
On the issues
Mitt Romney’s focus on jobs and the deficit in his acceptance speech plays to his strengths on the issues, while Thursday’s convention agenda seeks to shore up his weak points. The latest Associated Press-GfK poll finds him most competitive with Obama on fiscal matters. Among registered voters, he leads the president by 10 points as more trusted to handle the federal budget deficit, and holds narrow 4-point edges on creating jobs and handling the economy.
But Romney trails Obama by 15 points on handling social issues, and by 6 points on handling Medicare, a central focus of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s congressional career.
The focus among Thursday night’s convention speakers on Romney’s personal and professional life could help to boost his personal image. Registered voters split evenly in their impressions of the former governor — 46 percent have a favorable impression, 46 percent an unfavorable one. That lags behind Obama’s 52 percent favorable to 46 percent unfavorable mark on this question.
Romney also trails the president on the question of which candidate is the stronger leader (50 percent Obama to 41 percent Romney) and is seen as less apt to understand average people’s problems (51 percent say Obama better understands compared with 36 percent Romney).
The word ‘Mormon’
Mitt Romney rarely uses the word Mormon. Instead, he talks about “my faith” or uses similar phrases to describe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
But in his acceptance speech delivered at the Republican National Convention on Thursday night, the Republican nominee for president used the word outright. And in the process, he also directly addressed the question of whether some Americans — those unfamiliar with Mormonism — might find his faith unusual or unfamiliar.
“We were Mormons, and growing up in Michigan that might have seemed unusual or out of place,” the candidate said. “But I really don’t remember it that way. My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we went to.”
A somber hush
The floor of a national political convention can be a chaotic place. Many delegates do listen to every speech as the evening goes on. But other delegates mill around, chatting with friends, thronging the aisles, dashing out for food — and above all else, angling for photos with well-known faces. It’s often noisy and frequently raucous.
But every once in a while the convention floor stills for a bit. That happened Thursday night when Ted and Pat Oparowski, a Mormon couple, took the stage to describe a painful period in their life — when their teenage son, David, was diagnosed in 1979 with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Ted Oparowski, who described himself as someone of modest means, told the crowd how Mitt Romney had struck up a friendship with their son, through his work in the church, visiting the 14-year-old during the months he struggled with cancer before dying.
As the couple spoke in slow, sometimes halting voices, delegates in the aisles turned and listened. Voices dropped. The stillness lasted until the couple left the stage.
As Mitt Romney entered his convention hall through a side door, walking through the crowds on the floor, a group of several workers rushed to the stage to move the podium forward onto the stage, closer to the crowd.
Most of the night’s speakers spoke at the podium back on the main part of the stage. But Romney’s podium was moved forward onto a part of the stage that jutted out into the crowd of delegates. The protruding part of the stage was built overnight — and it allows Romney to be photographed with delegates on three sides.
By the time Romney reached his convention stage, the workers were gone — and the podium in its new position.
Beside Mitt Romney’s stage, two protesters held up pink signs and began
chanting “People over profits.” Convention officials rushed to them and
dragged them from their seats.
They resisted while the audience chanted
“U-S-A” repeatedly to drown them out. Romney, who loses network coverage
at 11 p.m., returned to his speech even as the scuffle happened behind
him, over his right shoulder.
‘You need an American’
Mitt Romney says in America, all things are possible, and he holds up the first moon landing as proof.
“The soles of Neil Armstrong’s boots on the moon made permanent impressions on our souls,” Romney said in a rousing speech, heavy on outspoken patriotism, as he accepted the GOP presidential nomination.
He said Americans “went to bed that night knowing we lived in the greatest country in the history of the world.”
When the world needs a tough job done, Romney said, “you need an American.”
Heal families, not oceans
Mitt Romney got a few laughs and a lot of applause when he made fun of
President Barack Obama’s efforts to address climate change.
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to
heal the planet,” Romney said. “My promise is to help you and your
In a showbiz flourish, the GOP convention appearance of the “Dirty Harry” star and Oscar-winning director of “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby” was kept secret.
The crowd roared at its first glimpse of actor/director Clint Eastwood, the night’s surprise guest. “Save some for Mitt,” he told them.
In free-wheeling, joke-filled remarks, Eastwood remembered the enthusiasm around President Barack Obama’s nomination four years ago.
“Everybody’s crying. Oprah was crying. I was even crying,” he joked.
Then he quickly pivoted to the serious: “I haven’t cried that hard since I found out there’s 23 million unemployed people in this country. That is something to cry for. That is a disgrace, a national disgrace.”
“This administration hasn’t done enough to cure that,” Eastwood said, and it’s “time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem.”
Eastwood got an adoring standing ovation by telling the delegates, “When somebody does not do the job, we’ve got to let him go.”
But in a bizarre turn for a political convention, Eastwood carried out an imaginary conversation with Barack Obama, represented by an empty stool onstage.
The Dirty Harry actor’s performance ranged from biting to rambling, with lots of jokes and a salty touch.
“I’ve got Mr. Obama sitting here and I was going to ask him a couple of questions,” Eastwood told the delegates, gesturing to the stool, before pretending to question Obama about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whether he should have tried to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects.
At one point he “listened” to the imaginary Obama lash out at Romney — leaving the president’s side of the conversation to the audience’s imagination.
“He can’t do that to himself. You’re absolutely crazy!” Eastwood reacted. “You’re getting as bad as Biden.”
Stern-faced Romney aides winced at times as Eastwood’s remarks stretched on. On a night where virtually every moment was scripted, Eastwood was among the only speakers not reading from a teleprompter as he spoke. It was blank.
At first, Eastwood seemed to suck most of the excitement out of the convention center, leaving the crowd a bit nonplussed, a bit twittering in awkward embarrassment. By the end, the crowd was applauding his jokes, though hardly raucously. But Romney aides had serious faces as they watched the lengthy, unscripted moment, clearly a bit taken aback.
The family Bush is making sure its message gets out.
Among the few mentions of the last Republican elected — and re-elected president — were by his family, who seemed to use the brief time spent on President Obama’s predecessor to try to polish George W. Bush’s legacy.
A five-minute video aired at the convention Wednesday included side-by-side interviews with George W. Bush and his father, former President George H. W. Bush.
The senior Bush noted of his son’s administration: “I think the thing I take pride in is the integrity.”
The younger Bush’s wife Laura added: “I’m so proud of George.”
Romney advisers dismissed that speakers were advised to stay away from the Bush years. But some delegates said it was understandable that he didn’t show.
Bush’s brother Jeb, Florida’s former governor, gave the most direct defense at the outset of his speech to the convention Thursday. It was completely off the advance script, and it was emphatic, praising “a man of integrity, courage and honor” who kept the country safe “during incredibly challenging times.”
When he finished, he transitioned to his prepared remarks this way: “Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk a little bit about our kids and education.”
Gingrich X 2
Newt Gingrich, known for doing things his way, capped his losing presidential bid with a unique GOP convention appearance alongside his wife, Callista.
Taking turns speaking, sort of like Oscar presenters, the pair praised Mitt Romney by comparing him to President Ronald Reagan.
Barack Obama is no Reagan, they made clear. He’s more like Jimmy Carter, the Gingriches asserted.
If you use Newt and Callista Gingrich’s remarks as a guide, you’d think the convention in Tampa was for Ronald Reagan. The former House speaker and his wife invoked Reagan 13 times during their brief remarks.
Mentions of Mitt Romney? Four.
“It’s striking how President Carter and President Obama both took our nation down a path that in four years weakened America’s confidence in itself and our hope for a better future,” Newt said.
Left behind were any hard feelings from the heated primary campaign in which he called Romney a liar at one point and in a debate urged him to drop “the pious baloney.”
Republicans continued their strong outreach to Hispanic voters during Thursday night’s convention.
All week they have been highlighting Hispanic elected officials from around the country, but on Thursday the effort kicked into even a higher gear. In a short video, elected officials from New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez to US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida talked about how their party’s values are the values of many Hispanics — from strong family ties to strong support for small business.
On the heels of the video, Romney’s son Craig Romney spoke in Spanish to the crowd, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — a popular politician who also spoke to the crowd in Spanish.
Scheduled to be up later in the evening: Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — perhaps the country’s most up-and-coming Hispanic official.
What’s Obama doing?
White House spokesman Jay Carney says Obama is “fully aware” of the happenings at the Republican convention in Tampa this week. But he says he doesn’t think the president watched Paul Ryan’s speech Wednesday night, nor does he know whether Obama will watch Romney address the GOP convention Thursday.
Carney didn’t say whether he thought Ryan’s speech was factually accurate. But he criticized Romney’s campaign more broadly for distorting Obama’s record and policy positions in speeches and advertisements.
“Perhaps when the facts aren’t on your side, you ignore the facts,” Carney says.