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Convention Watch: Looking back to Reagan, Bush

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 7:48 p.m. MDT

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.

David Goldman, Associated Press

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Convention Watch shows you the 2012 political conventions through the eyes of Associated Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

BROTHERLY LOVE

Jeb Bush used his turn on the Republican's national stage to make a spirited, personal defense of his brother, George W. Bush, whose oft-criticized presidency has been barely mentioned at the party's convention.

"My brother, well, I love my brother. He is a man of integrity and courage and honor," Bush said before launching into his formal remarks, which focused on education policy.

Early in his brother's two-term tenure, America was shocked by the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Jeb Bush said: "During incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe."

Delegates responded with a standing ovation.

— Connie Cass —Twitter http://twitter.com/ConnieCass

THE WONDER YEAR?

While speaker after speaker at the Republican National Convention lambasted Barack Obama — and more than one mocked the final night of his 2008 convention in Denver — they appropriated one of the best-known songs of that Democratic night's musical star, Stevie Wonder.

The Obama campaign played the song, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," frequently at the end of the candidate's rallies that year, and Wonder himself sang it on the final night of Obama's convention at Denver's Invesco Field.

Thursday night, playing Newt and Callista Gingrich offstage, the GOP convention's band swung into the song, the second time it was featured in the hall this week.

— Robert Furlow — Twitter http://twitter.com/furl442

FULL-THROATED DEFENSE

The last Republican president, George W. Bush, has been almost invisible at this convention — until Thursday night. Almost no previous speaker had mentioned the president who immediately preceded Barack Obama. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan even took an oblique swipe at Bush, noting in his speech Wednesday night that the country's budget and debt problems had been caused not just by Obama, but by administrations before his.

That changed Thursday night, when the former president's brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made an impromptu — and full throated — defense of his brother at the start of his speech to the delegates. Jeb Bush's speech was on education. But before he leapt in, Jeb Bush got the crowd roaring by telling the crowd of delegates "I love my brother." In a very troubled time for America, Jeb Bush said, "He kept us safe."

George W. Bush was just a few months into his presidency when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, killing thousands of Americans. In the aftermath of those Sept. 11 attacks, then-President Bush ordered American troops first into Afghanistan to attack al-Qaida and then later into Iraq to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein.

— Sally Buzbee

SUNSHINE AT LAST

"It's finally the Sunshine State." — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, speaking on the floor of the Republican National Convention on Thursday night, referring to the blowing by of Tropical Storm Isaac earlier in the week.

— Carol Druga — Twitter http://twitter.com/Droogs66

QUICKQUOTE: JEB ON GEORGE

"Mr. President, it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked." — Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, after praising his brother, former President George W. Bush.

REAGAN REDUX

Ronald Reagan is at the Republican National Convention once again — if merely in spirit.

As the final session began Thursday night, a nostalgic Reagan video backed by music and sentimental imagery summoned the way the conservatives have framed his legacy. "As we continue our journey we think of those who traveled before us," Reagan's voice said over clips of war veterans and families. In a montage of images that ranged from space shuttles to Sandra Day O'Connor, his narrative was repackaged and re-offered to conservatives 23 years after he left office and eight years after he died. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," Reagan said once again Thursday night.

There's no more potent image for the Republicans to summon, of course. This is a man who is the most towering icon of modern conservatism. When Reagan is brought out, it's always about imagery and implied GOP renewal — about a "springtime of hope" and the notion of America as the shining city on the hill.

Then the music swelled and faded, the video ended and two fresh speakers walked on stage: Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista.

— Ted Anthony — Twitter http://www.twitter.com/anthonyted

QUICKQUOTE: RENEWAL

"It's not about the past. It's not about what was done wrong. It's not about blaming America. It's quite the opposite. Tonight we embark on a renewal of the American dream." — U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla.

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.

— Julie Pace — Twitter http://twitter.com/JPaceDC

HIGH-SPEED RAIL

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is all smiles, happy that so far his city has avoided widespread confrontations and arrests that have marred other conventions.

But that doesn't mean he's pleased with everything.

Buckhorn, a Democrat, used his daily press briefing to argue Tampa needs more mass transit options to build from the "worldwide" exposure it got during the convention.

In early 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott turned down a federal grant to help build a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. The Republican governor argued the state would wind up spending more than anticipated because it would cost more than initially projected.

Buckhorn took a swipe at Scott by noting that Detroit's mayor had thanked him recently because high-speed rail money once destined for Florida was redirected to other states and cities.

Gary Fineout — Twitter http://twitter.com/fineout

POLICE-PROTESTER LOVE?

As the Republican National Convention wears on, protesters are getting worn out.

The busloads of protesters — who are staying at a makeshift camp dubbed "Romneyville" — have seen their food and water supplies dwindle. Law enforcement has noticed, as well.

So on Thursday morning, police brought boxed lunches of sandwiches, fruits and ice-cold water to Romneyville. Chief Jane Castor said police had extra food, so they decided to donate it rather than throw it out.

Castor, during a morning news conference, said simply: "We're here to serve the public."

— Tamara Lush — Twitter http://twitter.com/tamaralush

WHO'S TUNING IN

Sure, political conventions aim to fire up the die-hard partisans in the arena, but they're also made-for-TV events designed to appeal to undecided voters. Recent polling suggests they may not be hitting their mark.

A Pew Research Center survey before the Republican convention began found just over four in 10 adults were interested in following each party's convention.

Partisans were most interested in their own gathering — 70 percent of Republicans were interested in this week's events and 66 percent of Democrats were interested in their party's upcoming convention. Fewer partisans check in on the other team: 41 percent of Democrats were interested in the goings-on in Tampa, Fla., while 28 percent of Republicans were interested in tuning in for Obama's re-nomination.

Among independents, just 37 percent said they were interested in the Republican convention, 36 percent in the Democratic one.

For Republicans angling for young, disaffected Obama voters, the convention may not be their best chance. Overnight ratings for the GOP convention suggested less than 10 percent of viewers were under age 35. The Pew poll found less than 30 percent of twenty-somethings were interested in the political conventions.

— Jennifer Agiesta — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennagiesta

ROMNEY PREVIEW

In his big speech, Mitt Romney will make a direct appeal to voters who felt excited to cast a ballot for Barack Obama four years ago.

"If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now that he's President Obama?" Romney says in excerpts released before his Thursday night speech. "You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president when the best feeling you had, was the day you voted for him."

You've been let down, Romney's telling former Obama voters, by a presidency that lapsed into disappointment and division.

"Many Americans have given up on this president, but they haven't ever thought about giving up," Romney says. "Not on themselves. Not on each other. And not on America."

Riffing on Obama's 2008 catchphrase, "Yes we can," Romney plans to tell Americans, "Now is the moment when we CAN do something."

What can Americans do, according to Romney? Vote for him.

— Connie Cass —Twitter http://twitter.com/ConnieCass

POLITICAL FOOTBALL

There may be large swaths of a Republican stronghold otherwise occupied during Mitt Romney's big speech Thursday night. College football debuts at the same time, and that can trump anything else on TV, especially in the pigskin-crazy South.

The marquee matchup happens down in Tennessee, with Steve Spurrier's No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks taking on the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville at 7 p.m. EDT. But the GOP probably isn't worried about losing interest or votes in either South Carolina or Tennessee, both of which are normally reliable Republican states in presidential contests.

— Jesse J. Holland — Twitter http://twitter.com/jessejholland

TEMPEST OVER A TEMPEST

The Democratic Party chairwoman, who also happens to be a Floridian, is slamming Republicans' decision to continue with their Tampa convention as the Gulf Coast was battered by a hurricane.

She says it's an example of the GOP's "continued focus on winning at all costs."

"I will note that the parties, the special interest fund bashes that were not canceled, went on in spite of the fact that our state was getting hit and Tampa was in the path of the storm," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said at a press conference Thursday, when asked if Republicans had acted wisely by canceling the first day of their convention.

"I give them credit for canceling the first day," she said. "The way they handled it going forward as the rest of the region was getting battered - probably a challenging situation for them. There are other ways they could have handled it other than the way they chose. They could have taken things down a notch."

— Beth Fouhy — Twitter http://twitter.com/bfouhy

IT'S ABOUT THE MOMENT

After watching the boss try out the podium and the teleprompters, senior aide Eric Fehrnstrom was in no mood to lower expectations. He predicted a great performance from Mitt Romney as he formally accepts the presidential nomination Thursday night.

"These speeches are just as much about the moment as they are about the words," Fehrnstrom said. "One thing we know about Mitt Romney is that he always rises to the occasion.

"This is the biggest speech of his political career. And I have no doubt that he will deliver the best speech of his political career."

— Steve Peoples — Twitter http://twitter.com/sppeoples

STANDING O

Mitt Romney got a standing ovation in the convention hall — six hours before he was set to take the stage for his speech.

Romney and running mate Paul Ryan stopped in for an afternoon walk-through at the Forum in Tampa, Fla., where Romney formally accepts the presidential nomination Thursday night.

Delegates milling around the mostly empty hall stood and applauded for Romney and Ryan, both dressed in suit and tie.

The two paused for photographs near the podium with campaign staff, including senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom and policy director Lanhee Chan.

After that, Romney stood at the podium while aides adjusted the height of his teleprompter.

Minutes later, they were gone.

— Josh Lederman — Twitter http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

SAY WHAT?

Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has proclaimed her support for the election of ... Barack Obama?

Clearly just a verbal slip, says her spokesman. The governor's skirmishes with the Obama administration over the issue of illegal immigration are well-known. At one point she was captured on camera pointing an angry finger at the president as they talked on an airport tarmac.

Brewer's surprising comment came in an MSNBC interview Wednesday at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., as she renewed her call for improved security on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Brewer said she was hopeful Obama would be elected in November so he could help come up with a solution. She didn't correct herself, nor was she prompted to.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said Thursday that the governor isn't the first person to misspeak amid the chaos of a crowded room.

For the record: Brewer continues to endorse Republican Mitt Romney for president.

— Felicia Fonseca — Twitter http://twitter.com/FonsecaAP

FUNEREAL?

At a thank-you luncheon Wednesday for campaign supporters, Ann Romney enthused that the convention has given her a chance to "see so many people you've known" over time.

"It's like going to your own funeral," she joked.

Maybe not the best metaphor.

— Nancy Benac — Twitter http://twitter.com/nbenac

COUSIN WHO?

On his big speech day, Mitt Romney spent the morning visiting with family — family in the triple digits.

"About 120 of our family gathered," Romney told campaign donors gathered in a banquet hall in St. Petersburg. "And it's amazing how the families come together in times like this. We got our pictures taken with some members we hadn't seen in a long time. It was heartwarming."

— Nancy Benac — Twitter http://twitter.com/nbenac

A NEW STAGE

Mitt Romney's convention planners transformed part of the Forum overnight, getting ready for the big finale — the presidential nominee's speech to the nation.

They extended the stage about 12 feet out into the crowd and surrounded the bottom of the steps with a see-through barrier. They're still drilling and working on it, and the podium is gone at the moment. A bunch of people are testing the stability of the new stage now. Currently, the center seats are gone, but there's still a space where they haven't put down new carpeting and it looks like the seats will go there.

— Julie Mazziotta — Twitter http://twitter.com/julietmazz

A GHOSTLY PRESENCE

Former President George W. Bush may be a ghostly presence at the Republican National Convention, but his brother expects him to get top billing, of sorts, next week.

"He'll be more at the Charlotte convention," joked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on "CBS This Morning." He was referring to the Democratic National Convention that begins Tuesday and is likely to feature lots of George Bush-bashing.

Jeb Bush acknowledges that his brother has been a target because voters blame him for the nation's economic problems. The former president has held no place of honor at the GOP convention other than a video tribute.

That doesn't mean he isn't tuning in to the convention.

"I think he's watching it, and I know he's interested in it," Jeb Bush said. "He's curious about this country. But his attitude is, 'Look, I had a chance, I served, I did my best. It's Mitt Romney's night. It's his turn.'"

— Hope Yen

EDITOR'S NOTE — Follow AP journalists on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

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