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December 20, 2014

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Where Is the Wow?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Where Is the Wow?

Mitt Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, prepares for his speech tonight at the 2012 Republican National Convention. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

The CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing is being published from the GOP Convention in Tampa, Fla., this week. For more information on signing up to receive this free email, click here.

THE PODIUM: The convention convenes for its second day at 7 — but the broadcast networks won’t start showing anything until 10, half an hour before Paul Ryan appears to deliver his acceptance speech and introduce himself to the nation.

The proceedings open with Ayla Brown singing the national anthem (while her dad’s back in Massachusetts working to save his Senate seat). The first hour’s most prominent speakers are Mitch McConnell and his Kentucky colleague Rand Paul — who’s been having a tough time this week balancing his filial loyalty to the convention’s No. 1 killjoy with his desire to be a player in the Senate and the mainstream national GOP. (Romney’s most nettlesome rival, denied his own turn on stage, is leaving town before his son speaks but will be given a video tribute.) The 8 o’clock hour’s top appearances will be by John McCain, John Thune and Rob Portman; beyond personifying the party’s generational shift, all three senators will tout their roles in shaping defense and foreign policy as part of the day’s “We change it” theme.

The third hour will be given over mainly to Mike Huckabee (he’s sure to deliver at least a subtle reiteration of his recently vigorous Todd Akin defense), Tim Pawlenty (the consolation prize for being a running mate runner-up twice in a row), Gov. Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico (a Romney family favorite) and a video tribute to the two Presidents Bush. At 10, the warm-up acts for Ryan will be by Condi Rice (Romney “understands American exceptionalism and won’t  be afraid to lead from the front,” she’ll say) and Susana Martinez of New Mexico (the nation’s first Latina governor).

THE TICKET: Romney flew from Tampa to Indianapolis to address the American Legion this afternoon — asserting that Obama’s biggest presidential failure has been not delivering the jobs he has promised to returning veterans. Ryan checked out the convention hall for a few minutes this afternoon and planned to drop by a Wisconsin delegation party. Ann Romney and Janna Ryan appeared together at a breakfast for prominent GOP women.

THE OTHER TICKET: Obama wrapped up his three-swing-state college tour with a speech this afternoon at a rally near the University of Virginia — heavy on a defense of the health care overhaul that he too now delights in labeling “Obamacare.” (“I call his plan, ‘Romney doesn’t care!’” he declared.) The event was off campus because school officials didn’t want to disrupt the second day of the semester. Biden is hewing to the tradition that nominees of one party don’t stump during the other party’s convention. Michelle Obama is in New York to tape interviews about good eating habits with Dr. Oz, Rachael Ray and David Letterman.

GENTLE WAVES: A third of Louisiana may be without power, assuring the selling of Romney and the recovery from Isaac will share top billing in the news for another day — and complicating speechwriter efforts to mix empathy for storm victims, excoriations of Obama and “Vote Republican” rationales with particular appeal to the undecideds. But it’s the energy shortage inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum that’s particularly bedeviling to campaign operatives at the midpoint of the convention.

The basic truism of the modern political convention is that how it plays on TV is at least an order of magnitude more important than how it plays in the hall. But making sure the message is received well by the people on the stage — and, make no mistake, the hockey arena has been transformed into one big sound stage — is profoundly important, too. Not only does the energy in the room (or lack of it) translate on the screen, but in the 10 weeks after the curtain falls, the party will be counting on an energized, unified and dedicated corps of convention-veteran party leaders to motivate the base and get out the vote. And the flat, subdued, going-through-the motions feel in the room last night suggested that Team Romney has not yet figured out how to deliver the shot of adrenaline they’re after.

From now on, they will be making sure to fill the seats (hundreds were empty last night), and to get placards to all the people on the floor (only small sections received “Mitt” cardboards and faux-homemade “We (Heart) Ann” signs to wave for the cameras on Day One). They may also push to get fewer delegates to wear silly and self-aggrandizing costumes (a Kansas delegate dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West) and put on telegenic swag in support of Romney. (Not a single Romney T-shirt was spotted on a delegate last night.) Beyond that stagecraft, the convention producers will be working, more importantly, to refine the rhetoric — principally to hone and emphasize reasons why Republicans should be getting enthusiastic about voting in favor of Romney, while downplaying a bit the reasons for voting against Obama. Delegate after delegate has been hard-pressed this week to offer specifics when asked what they like about their nominee’s proposals or ideology, but they all have a long conversation’s worth of reasons why they want the president defeated. Campaign operatives know that, in close elections, only running down the other guy does not win swing voters. When an incumbent’s on the ballot, they generally want a reason to vote “yes” for someone new.

Romney and his handlers have clearly not offered that rationale persuasively enough. Making sure the scripts don’t conflict will be a start. For all the talk about how Ann Romney worked so hard to woo suburban soccer moms (“I love you, women!” she shouted incongruously at one point.) and how hard Chris Christie worked to promote himself (only seven “Romneys” were in his text, the first after a 16-minute promotion of the keynoter’s own vision and record), the most striking thing about Night One’s action was how the soft-soap, tough-love combination was not coordinated at all. Instead, the theme of the first speech was flat-out contradicted by the theme of the second. “Tonight I want to talk to you about love,” the would-be first lady declared as her opening. “Tonight, we choose respect over love,” the will-be 2016 candidate declared as his.

THE PLAN AFTER ANN: At a minimum, the Romney forces will also be working to make their man more personally appealing — although it’s tough to imagine when there will be a better shot than Ann Romney’s speech last night, when her obvious devotion to her husband and her platitudes about his dedication, generosity and trustworthiness were devoid of the sort of show-me-don’t-tell-me examples that so many were hoping to hear. (Tuna-and-pasta casserole was about as good as it got.) If he is as genuinely self-effacing as she said, then we won’t get much more of a sense of the private Romney tomorrow. And doing more to rebut his reputation as a quirky plutocrat would clearly help his cause: The  latest Washington Post/ABC poll, out today, shows him with 40 percent favorable, 51 percent unfavorable ratings — an “upside down” combination, in political-speak, that gives him the lowest personal popularity of any major-party nominee in the lifetmes of most adults. (Obama’s numbers were 50 favorable to 47 percent unfavorable.)

The best shot available to the nominee may well come on Friday, the day after the convention, when word is spreading that he and Ryan are making plans to scrap their scheduled campaign stops elsewhere across Florida and head to the New Orleans area to meet with disaster victims and view the damage.

THE WONK’S CHALLENGE: Sarah Palin’s speech in St. Paul was probably the first vice presidential acceptance speech in the TV era that altered the trajectory of the ticket — and to remain memorable four years later. In that sense, she set a high bar for Paul Ryan to clear tonight. But by historical standards, the still-nationally-little-known 42-year-old congressman from Wisconsin has quite a low threshold to get across. Romney seems genuinely fond of him, his own performances boosted whenever they’re on the road together. Party insiders know him well and have every confidence in his campaign skills. Social conservatives are as enthusiastic as fiscal conservatives are about him, saying his presence on the ticket already boosts their confidence in how a Romney administration would govern.

And so his task is ultimately a simple one: To reveal himself to the nation — especially the 10 percent truly on the fence — as an articulate, unthreatening running mate who does not want to push his mother and her Medicare benefits off the fiscal cliff. Those who have watched his 14-year congressional career, and his ascent to House Budget chairman and pre-eminent GOP fiscal policy voice, have every confidence he can do as much. What they are fretting about is that his mantra about a nation dangerously beset by “debt, doubt and despair” will prove to be a prime-time downer at a time when what the GOP is looking for is an uplifting spark. Their lesser concerns are that his pointing at the twinned debt clocks hanging off the box seats won’t come across all that well on television — and that his performance might be otherwise so strong as to raise the bar for Romney’s own speech.

HEARD BUT NOT RECOGNIZED: It took only two minutes yesterday afternoon — and some familiar-back-in-D.C. gavel-banging by Boehner that ignored the opposing force’s loud boos and calls for “regular order” and a recorded vote. But the Republican Party has taken care of some business that, while it may seem petty given the rest of the convention messaging, could prove quite important in what will be a wide-open scramble among the party’s big crop of prominent and young new faces for the 2016 nomination (if Romney’s not running for re-election). Over the concerted opposition of the Ron Paul delegates (except some of those from Maine, who were denied access to the floor in a credentials dispute) the convention adopted new nomination rules that will require state parties to allocate convention delegates according to the statewide primary or caucus vote. The change was a clear effort to avoid a repetition of this year, when Paul supporters were able to take over the delegate-selection  process in a handful of states (Maine among them) that he didn’t win.

When the Speaker asked for a voice vote, the sounds of the “ayes” and “nays” were just about equal. But the sting that Paul forces felt from that parliamentary slight was equaled an hour later, when the Romney forces declined even to announce how many votes Paul received during the roll call of the states that carried out the formal business of the convention: The official tally was 2,061 delegates voting to make Romney the nominee and 202 for “other candidates.” (The AP said Paul got 177 and C-Span said he got 190; almost all the rest went to Rick Santorum.)

STILL SLOW: The Commerce Department this morning upgraded its estimate of economic growth in April through June — but only slightly, to 1.7 percent instead of the initial estimate of 1.5 percent, still appreciably less than the 2 percent annual rate for January through March and the 4.1 percent rate in the fourth quarter of last year. GDP growth of at least 2 percent is necessary to push down the unemployment rate, which was 8.3 percent in July. There’s a nearly universal expectation the number will stay above 8 percent past the election; the August report comes out the day after Obama’s speech in Charlotte next week.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “We led with our hearts and our dreams that we could be more inclusive than we had ever been, and no candidate had ever spoken so beautifully,” Artur Davis (who seconded Obama’s nomination in Denver) said in his turncoat debut last night. “But dreams meet daybreak. The jobless know what I mean. So do those who wonder how this administration could wreck a recovery for three years and counting.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: McCain (76), who marked his birthday four years ago by announcing Palin as his running mate.

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter @davidhawkings.

More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

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