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First Thoughts: Mitt's moment

Mitt’s moment and his four objectives… How we got to here -- a story of endurance and survival… Ryan makes his mark with last night’s speech… He also makes some misleading and unfair assertions… And the GOP’s diversity on display.

Brian Snyder / REUTERS

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney addresses the American Legion's national convention in Indianapolis, Indiana August 29, 2012.

TAMPA, Fla. -- After Ann Romney's introduction on Tuesday and Paul Ryan's rousing speech last night, Mitt Romney gets his moment tonight when he accepts the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nomination. If tonight’s speech is to be successful, Romney has to meet four objectives. One, he has to better introduce himself to the American public; it remains striking that after running for president for much of the past five years, voters still don’t have more than a two-dimensional understanding of the soon-to-be nominee. Two, he needs to convince the public that, while he looks the part, he’s the man Americans are comfortable seeing on their TVs for the next four years. Three, he has to try to close the empathy gap; our most recent NBC/WSJ poll found President Obama holding a 22-point advantage on who cares more about average people. And four, he needs to put some meat on the policy bone to make the case how his plans could actually work better than Obama’s -- and how they are different from the past Republican administration. If four hours are going to decide this presidential election, the first hour comes tonight.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd explains what's at stake for Mitt Romney – who is giving his speech at the RNC Thursday night.

*** How will he use it? So how will Romney use this hour? Focus on the personal? Emphasize the policy? Talk to the base? Reason with the swing voter? All of the above? There is no obvious answer here. But we’ll find out 13 hours from now, at 10:00 p ET. What’s more, it’s interesting how many of the things Romney has to accomplish tonight were the same things that Al Gore had to accomplish 12 years ago, and Gore’s story proves you can turn it around. By the way, the Romney camp says it’s holding more than 250 watch parties in 13 battleground states to celebrate Romney becoming the GOP’s official nominee. Meanwhile, the Obama camp has unveiled a new web video, hitting Romney for trying to shake “an Etch-A-Sketch of epic proportions.”

*** How we got here -- a story of endurance and survival: Remember that Romney’s upcoming moment tonight almost didn't happen during one of the wildest presidential nominating cycles we can remember. After Rick Perry jumped into the race in Aug. 2011, the Texas governor became the immediate front-runner in the GOP race, but a combination of the Romney campaign’s attacks on his immigration record and Perry’s own stumbles in the debates (“Oops”) sank his chances. Then, about a month before the Iowa caucuses, Newt Gingrich made his surge, becoming the new GOP front-runner. But entered the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future, whose negative TV ads pummeled Gingrich so hard that the former House speaker finished fourth in Iowa. And then there was Rick Santorum’s surge in Feb. 2012. We often forget how close the former Pennsylvania senator came to upsetting Romney in his native state of Michigan -- it was 41% to 38% -- and had Romney lost that contest, it’s fair to say that he probably wouldn’t be standing on the stage tonight in Tampa accepting the GOP’s presidential nomination. Romney’s story, at least as it relates to the GOP nominating contest, is one of endurance and survival. 

*** Ryan makes his mark: As for Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech last night, it was quite an introduction for the Wisconsin congressman, and he did the things you’d expect from the VP speech. He gladly took on the role of attack dog. “Ladies and gentlemen, these past four years we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House. What’s missing is leadership in the White House.” He proclaimed that he and Romney -- with Ryan’s budget plan -- were the reformers. “Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.” And following Ann Romney’s lead from Tuesday night, he tried to humanize the man at the top of the ticket. “Mitt and I … go to different churches. But in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example. And I’ve been watching that example. The man who will accept your nomination tomorrow is prayerful and faithful and honorable.” And Ryan did all of these things projecting youth and energy, although it didn’t appear his target audience was swing voters.  

Todd Akin's apology tour is over…President Obama endorses

*** And he also makes some misleading or unfair assertions: That was the positive part of his speech last night. The negative came from the facts and fairness of some of his assertions. Perhaps the most egregious was his hit on Obama over Simpson-Bowles. “He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.” But here’s the thing: Ryan served on that same debt commission, and voted AGAINST it. Had Ryan voted for it (and convinced his fellow House members on the commission to do the same), Simpson-Bowles would have become law. Ryan also knocked Obama for the S&P downgrade, not mentioning the role that House Republicans like him played in that debt-ceiling debate. He also again attacked the president over those $716 billion in cuts/savings to Medicare -- the same $716 billion in cuts/savings that Ryan includes his budget. And he argued that Obama was unable to keep a GM plant open in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, WI, when that plant closed before Obama became president. Out of all of the assertions, the only one the Romney-Ryan camp is pushing back on today is the GM plant, saying it was put on “standby” -- not shut down -- during the Bush administration. 

*** The VP speech typically doesn’t have a long shelf life: We want to make a final point about Ryan’s acceptance speech, and it’s the same one we made yesterday: Don’t get carried away by a strong VP speech; it typically doesn’t have a long shelf life. Think Ferraro in ’84, Bentsen in ’88, Kemp in ’96, Lieberman in ’00, and Edwards in ’04. The exception, of course, is Sarah Palin in ’08. But she isn’t the rule.

*** Diversity on display: Democrats, by far, have a more diverse electorate. But Republicans have done their best at this convention to demonstrate they have a more diverse bench. On Tuesday, they showcased Mia Love, Ted Cruz, and Nikki Haley; last night, it was Condi Rice and Susana Martinez; and tonight, it will be Marco Rubio. A few words on Rice’s speech: She started slowly, but won the crowd over, especially when she talked about how a young girl who grew up in the Jim Crow South later became secretary of state. It was a campaign speech without being ideological, and that’s hard to pull off. Rice’s biggest shortcoming was to talk about foreign policy but not acknowledge the role the administration she worked for played in the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we’ll say this about Martinez’s speech: It might have been the most underrated address at this convention. She was strong. 

*** Thursday’s schedule (the theme is “We Believe in America”)

7:00 pm ET hour: Connie Mack, Newt and Callista Gingrich
8:00 pm hour: Jeb Bush, Romney adviser Bob White
9:00 pm hour: former MA Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, former Olympians Michael Eruzione, Derek Parra and Kim Rhode
10:00 pm hour: Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney 

Countdown to Dem convention: 4 days
Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 34 days
Countdown to VP debate: 42 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 47 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 53 days
Countdown to Election Day: 68 days

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