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Foreign policy largely moves to the sidelines at GOP convention

NBC's Ron Mott, Kelly O'Donnell and Luke Russert offer a preview of what to expect from Rep. Paul Ryan's speech before the Republican National Convention.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Out of all the speakers, all the proclamations, and all the political rhetoric, one topic was barely mentioned here last night, if at all: foreign policy.

That will change somewhat tonight when Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice address the Republican convention. According to Romney officials, McCain's speech -- which daughter Meghan McCain said would be "red meat to the lions" on MSNBC -- will focus on defense matters, while Rice's will concentrate on foreign affairs.

Slideshow: The 2012 Republican National Convention

But that's pretty much it. 

Tonight's other key speakers -- Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Rob Portman, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez -- will discuss domestic issues affecting the middle class, organizers say. And tomorrow's final night will be a build up to Mitt Romney's acceptance speech. 

(That said, Romney will talk about defense and veterans' issues in his upcoming speech today before the American Legion in Indianapolis.)

This lack of attention to foreign policy and national security is a departure from past political conventions. Four years ago in Denver, Democrats devoted the theme of their Wednesday program to the issue (the title of the night was "Securing America's Future"). And given that McCain was the GOP's nominee in the 2008 cycle, foreign affairs was a dominant theme in the Republican convention in St. Paul.

And in 2004 -- just removed from the 9/11 attacks and the start of the Iraq war -- both the Democratic and Republican conventions had a heavy focus on defense and foreign affairs. (Remember John Kerry's "reporting for duty" speech? Or George W. Bush's finale? Or Rudy Giuliani's?)

Of course, one obvious explanation for this change is the focus on the economy. Indeed, almost every poll shows that jobs and the economy rank as the public's top concern. "Obviously, the economy is No. 1," said a top Romney official in response to a question why there's so little attention to national security and foreign affairs at the GOP convention.

Another reason is the truncated schedule. "We only have three nights," an additional Romney official replied. "That's a piece of it." 

A third reason is President Barack Obama's strength on these issues, especially compared with his standing on the economy. In fact, the most recent NBC/WSJ poll found the president's approval rating on foreign policy at 54%, versus 44% on the economy.

And so guess what's a big Thursday theme of next week's Democratic convention in Charlotte?

According to the Boston Globe, it will be national security.