Tomorrow, one of the defining events of the 2012 presidential campaign begins, as Republicans gather in Tampa, Fla., to officially nominate Mitt Romney. The intensity of the presidential race ratchets up several notches, as the eyes of the nation are riveted on the GOP convention.
What will constitute a successful convention for Mitt Romney?
Webb: Romney needs to, first, consolidate his conservative and Republican base once and for all, fire them up and emerge from the convention unified and committed. This election will be all about turnout, and Republicans appear more interested and excited than Democrats. Romney needs to keep the fire going. Second, he needs to introduce himself to the nation, show his human side and come across as someone voters can like, as well as respect. Third, he needs to get through the convention without any major gaffes or sideshows that detract from key messages.
Romney has much more to gain, or lose, in his convention than President Barrack Obama does in the Democratic convention. Obama is a known quantity, and the Democratic convention isn't going to have much impact on the race. But this is Romney's big national coming-out party, an opportunity to emerge as likeable, comfortable and presidential — maybe even charismatic (that may be too much to ask).
Romney also needs to talk about what he will do as president, his plans for the country. He can leave it to other speakers to eviscerate Obama and the Democrats (Chris Christie and a host of others will be effective attack dogs). Romney needs to deliver his vision, how he will get the economy moving and put people back to work.
Pignanelli: "The 1928 Republican Convention opened with a prayer. If the Lord can see His way clear to bless the Republican Party the way it's been carrying on, then the rest of us ought to get it without even asking." — Will Rogers
The Washington Post recently ran an in-depth story focused on Romney's church service in Massachusetts. This profile revealed a super-organized religious volunteer — overburdened with many ecclesiastical time commitments — who ably led his congregation with adherence to church ideals and compassion to others in the community (aka the typical LDS bishop). If Americans see this version of Romney next week, then the convention will have been a success for Republicans.
Because of economic challenges and a general distaste for the federal government, Obama should be at least 10 points behind the GOP ticket. Romney's aloofness and incompetence in connecting with Americans establishes him as a flawed national candidate. Most Utahns may like Romney, but a majority of Americans — including those scared about the economy — have no affection or trust in the man. Unless Romney can alter America's perception of him, or the economy completely tanks in October, he is unlikely to prevail.
How will the selection of Paul Ryan as vice president impact the convention?
Webb: Ryan adds energy, excitement and shows the Republican ticket is serious about addressing the nation's real problems. He will deliver a great speech and shore up the base. Some voters might disagree with Ryan on the issues, but it's hard to demonize him because he is so likeable and down-to-earth, even charismatic in his own way. He is representative of a new generation of Republicans, showing that Republicans have more stars and interesting people (like Utah's Mia Love) — a deeper bench than the Democrats. He brings policy rigor and a serious focus on the issues.
Pignanelli: The general consensus among politicos is that the Ryan selection may not help Romney much in the polls, but it has moved the debate away from tax returns, dogs on cars, over-the-top mansions, etc. Ryan literally stepped out of a Norman Rockwell Americana painting, and Democrats will find it impossible to demonize this decent individual with personal attacks. However, the "Ryan Plan" is a different matter. Republicans were slow to embrace Ryan's earlier courageous attempts to reform federal government, allowing Democrats to define his efforts. The convention will demonstrate whether the GOP has the ability — and the desire — to package Romney's version of Ryan in a manner that is palatable to Americans. Failure to counter the Democrats messaging will leave them vulnerable to fatal blows throughout the election.
Will the Utah delegation have a meaningful role at the convention?
Webb: The Utah delegates will have a great time and be part of something quite special for Utah. Romney is, after all, an adopted son of the Beehive state. For some of us still a bit in awe over the fact that a committed Mormon could have a real shot at becoming the world's most powerful leader, the nomination of Romney is truly a historic event.
Pignanelli: The Romney campaign has allowed the Utah Olympic effort (prior to his involvement) to be described in derogatory and untrue measures. When the media interviews the Utah delegation about their adopted favorite son and how he "saved" the Olympics, our Washington delegation needs to walk a fine line of complimenting Romney for his skills without falling into the trap of disparaging the state's fine accomplishments throughout the entire process.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: email@example.com.