Robert Bennett: Random thoughts about the Republican Convention

Published: Monday, Sept. 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses delegates after speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.

Associated Press

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Here are some random thoughts about the Republican National Convention:

1. Mitt's wife, friends and neighbors stole the show.

They were there to humanize the man who lags President Barrack Obama in the personal likebility categories, and they succeeded. Ann Romney had the crowd in the hall with her all the way, sometimes in rapt silence, sometimes wiping away tears, often cheering loudly. More importantly for the campaign, surveys and focus groups showed that she struck undecided voters the same way. She even impressed some hard-shell, battle weary media types, except for the folks on MSNBC, who were apoplectic in their denunciation of her "flat" and "uninspiring" performance. One suspects that they really thought she did a great job and were mounting an effort to blunt its effect.

2. 2012 was very different from 2008.

The 2008 convention was so full of strong reassertions of conservative ideology — Sarah Palin gave that gathering's most memorable speech — that it came across as shrill and defensive. After the 2010 election results, it was assumed that the 2012 convention would be more of the same. But it wasn't. Yes, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were heard from, in off hours, but prime-time spots went to Condi Rice, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio — thinkers and doers telling compelling personal stories, rather than ideological cheerleaders shouting doctrinaire slogans.

While there were plenty of partisan one-liners to sting Obama and please the party faithful, the main attacks focused on his competence rather than on his beliefs. Paul Ryan's enthusiastic call to arms — "We can do this!" — summarized the convention's sense of optimism, something embodied in Romney's biography that was missing in 2008.

3. The major players in the supporting cast were governors, not Washington insiders.

Unlike some of their Democratic counterparts, Republican governors have been presiding over reductions in state debt and unemployment rates. The convention gave an unusually high number of them prime-time spots in which to parade their accomplishments, the message being, "Republicans deliver." Front and center in this effort were the women governors, including two from minorities, whose presence stressed Republican diversity.

Each governor, in his or her own way, made sure to mention another Republican governor who had tamed the deficit, lowered the unemployment rate and balanced the budget in a heavily Democratic state. You guessed it — Mitt Romney, the "stellar" businessman with a successful career in government.

4. The "Mormon Issue" is dead.

Ryan, the conservative Catholic, set things up by saying that he and Romney went to different churches but shared the common values of faith and prayer.

Then came Romney's friends and family, who, by telling their experiences as members of the Mormon Church in general and Romney's congregation in particular, defanged the "Mormons are weird" tiger more than anything else could have done.

Major network figures were almost gushing in response, saying things like, "That was really interesting," and, "I never knew that about Mormons," and, "Regardless of your politics, you have to admit that these are outstanding people." It will still come up on some left wing blogs, but Romney's Mormonism, which was an issue in the primaries, will not affect the general election.

Will the convention provide a significant bounce? I still doubt it because its specifics will be soon forgotten. However, it did its job by showcasing Romney as a better candidate than he was when he started and a leader who has shaped the party into one that is optimistic, enthusiastic and unified behind him. Team Romney can feel very good about how the convention has positioned it for the big fight ahead.

Robert Bennett, former U.S. Senator from Utah, is a part-time teacher, researcher and lecturer at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

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