TAMPA, Fla. — Meet mainstream Mitt. If voters are not intimately acquainted with him by the end of the week, they may not get a chance to meet him again.
Mitt Romney’s challenge at the Republican National Convention this week will be to yank a party and a biography that aren’t particularly oriented to the center back toward the middle.
Outside forces have blown with more force than even Hurricane Isaac. Tea party activists and Ron Paul’s libertarian forces have beaten Romney to Florida with voices of their own, reminders of a fractious primary campaign that left Romney battered.
It’s been a messy precursor to the convention: Missouri Senate candidate’s odd comments regarding rape and abortion fueled Democratic attempts to make the election into a war over women. Romney and the full Republican Party apparatus have tried to banish Rep. Todd Akin over those comments, fearful that they’ll tug perceptions of the party back toward the extremes.
“I think it was a terrible statement on his part,” Romney said of Akin on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think it was outrageous and offensive. I’ve asked him to get out of the race. I think I’ve distanced myself from the kind of thing he said as far as I possibly can.”
Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan hasn’t helped with that distance, at least not yet. Democratic attempts to link Ryan to Akin have dominated the run-up to Tampa — stories Romney needs to put an end to, and fast.
As for Romney himself, his challenge will be connecting his biography to the message — and getting back on a message focusing on issues of jobs and the economy.
The nation has learned much about Romney, but filtered mostly through a lens crafted by President Obama and his allies. In their telling, Romney’s elite background and easy-to-mock business record have been fodder, not strengths.
That needs to change this week for Romney. The convention schedule, even if shortened, will prominently feature members of Romney’s family and church, in addition to people affected by his business and other professional endeavors.
Ann Romney, naturally, is central to that strategy. She’s the Romney campaign’s not-so-secret weapon, the key to unlocking what the campaign sees as the real Romney.
She’s also the speaker Democrats feel will be most effective in communicating that message this week, with her speech on the new opening night, Tuesday.
The good news for Republicans is that the candidate’s biography fits with the campaign message, as it always has. Romney does have a good story to tell when it comes to his business record and his time in public service, running the Olympics in 2002, and as governor of Massachusetts.
The more difficult news is that this isn’t the first time they’ve tried to tell that story. Storm or not, controlling the message isn’t a given, even during a party’s own convention.