The GOP convention: Will voters finally meet the 'real' Mitt Romney?
In a bid to forge a more personal connection with voters, Team Romney is using the Florida gathering to highlight details of Mitt's Mormon faith and family life
Whether it's scorning store-bought cookies, dubiously claiming that he hunts "small varmints," or boasting that his friends own NASCAR teams, Mitt Romney has shown for years that he doesn't exactly have the common touch. The former executive at Bain Capital is often criticized for being robotic and aloof, and polls show that Romney has one of the worst approval ratings of all time for a presidential challenger in the month of August. But his campaign hopes that will all change on August 27, when the Republican National Convention opens in Tampa, Fla. The Republican Party is spending $20 million to spruce up Tampa's convention center, and hopes to highlight less-known aspects of Romney's character, such as his Mormon faith and his family life. (See a video of Republican officials unveiling the convention stage below.) The goal is to "accomplish something a year of campaigning has failed to do," says Jeremy W. Peters at The New York Times. "Paint a full and revealing portrait of who Mitt Romney is." Here, a guide to how the GOP convention will introduce the "real" Mitt Romney:
Who is in charge of telling Romney's story? The Romney campaign has hired a team of television veterans who have worked for Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart, Martha Stewart, MTV, NBC News, and more. "Their craft is slick packaging and eye candy that audiences consume by the millions," says Peters, and they're using their story-telling skills to give Romney a fresh introduction to voters.
How will they show us the "real" Romney? The centerpiece of the team's efforts is a stage "backed by 13 overlapping, high-resolution LED screens," says Richard Danielson at The Tampa Bay Times. Among other things, the screens will feature montages of his family that are meant to "help him come across as living room warm when he is so often boardroom cool," says Philip Rucker at The Washington Post. The stage, supposedly inspired by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, also features staircases that "slope into the audience" so that Romney appears "open and approachable, not distant and far above," says Peters. Screens at the top are meant to "look like skylights" in order to suggest "warmth, approachability, and openness."
How else will Romney re-introduce himself? Romney is expected to be more open about his Mormon faith, which the campaign has avoided over fears that it could alienate mainline Protestants skeptical that Mormonism is a legitimate branch of Christianity. A member of the Mormon church will deliver the invocation on the night that Romney addresses the convention, and Romney's work as a Mormon bishop will also be underscored. Many Republicans have argued that "Romney could reduce the empathy gap with Obama by highlighting some of his work on behalf of the poor as a Mormon bishop," says Christian Heinze at The Hill.
What about his time at Bain Capital? Romney's business experience, which has been attacked by Democrats, will form a major part of the convention. The Romney campaign is not necessarily trying "to make Americans fall in love with the nominee, but rather to fall in like with the idea of him as the nation's leader and a uniquely qualified businessman who can fix the economy," says Rucker. The stage will also feature a digital ticker showing the national debt's real-time climb.
Will it work? Perhaps. Or the convention's "very slickness" could backfire on Romney and make him seem even more superficial, says Peters. And remember, Romney has been running for president for a long time, which suggests a four-day convention isn't the silver bullet that will finally endear him to voters. "It's a tough road to hoe after all these various attempts to try to make him the Ken Doll Next Door that you want to have over for a pot roast," an unnamed GOP strategist tells Rucker. "They tried handing out chili, they tried without a tie, and I've not a seen a poll where America says we love Mitt Romney."