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TAMPA, Fla. — As the presidential campaign switches to Charlotte, N.C., next week for the Democratic convention, political observers, party loyalists and industry officials said Republicans and Mitt Romney at least played well to their base at their convention here, while it remains to be seen how successful they were in swaying undecided voters.
This story first appeared in the August 31, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Over the course of the week, Republicans focused on the economy, reducing the deficit and balancing the budget, criticizing President Obama’s signature issues of health care and stimulus programs, repealing burdensome regulations and championing women’s issues.
Industry representatives generally felt the message from the convention was positive and would resonate with voters.
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“I think the interesting strategic thing about rolling out Romney [on the national stage] is, he isn’t comfortable talking about himself in soft ways,” said Bill Hughes, senior vice president for government relations at the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “The presentation they developed and the way he presents himself is ‘Look, I am not here for you to like me, but I am here for you to trust me and I am here to get the job done.’”
“It’s not a likability contest,” Hughes said. “President Obama is a very likable person. It’s a question about who will get the job done.”
To that end, Hughes said he believes Republicans did a “good job of focusing on the economy and our debt situation and talking about the need for solutions for both.”
“From a retail point of view, we view that as a positive,” he added. “We do believe consumer confidence and the willingness to spend is affected over concerns of fiscal matters, and of course growing the economy and creating jobs also helps us as retailers.”
Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said one of the strong messages delivered by Republicans was the impact of regulations on businesses.
“This is raw Republican meat — get rid of regulators and regulations. That was the same message under Ronald Reagan and through two Bush administrations: Regulations are important but don’t overdo it,” Burke said. “The message that is being conveyed is that a Romney administration will not only repeal some [Obama] regulations, but also take a very strong look at the efficacy of those regulations to see whether they work or whether they are harming industry or consumers or whether they are too repetitive. That is the balance they have to make.
“For him to be successful and convince people that he is a great leader, he has got to get beyond the image he helped nurture,” Burke said. “He seems remote at times and gives robotic answers. But behind all that is a smart guy. Americans want a tough but fair president who has compassion. He has to show his compassionate side, something that Obama has never had trouble with. I think Romney has to show he has compassion in order for the American people to believe this guy is the real deal.”
Party loyalists, meanwhile, gave the thumbs-up to the convention, the message and their nominees.
Casey Curry, an alternate delegate from Waco, Tex., and a federal government employee who would like to see a smaller government, less regulation and an overhaul of the tax system, said, “The more conservative grass roots see Romney as a big-spending Republican like George W. Bush. [Vice presidential nominee Paul] Ryan gives [Romney] credibility.”
Elton Milstead, a delegate and county commissioner from Nacogdoches, Tex., who initially supported former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said, “Ryan helps Romney. With Mitt’s business experience and Ryan’s ability to cut a budget, it’s a perfect team.”
But while party loyalists were revved up by speeches designed to stir the base — from Gov. Chris Christie (R., N.J.) and Ryan, who accepted his nomination in a speech here Wednesday night — some political analysts said Romney might have a hard time getting a message across to the broader public.
Romney faced a significant challenge Thursday night in his speech accepting the nomination in the wake of criticism over his changing stance on some key issues and attack ads by Democrats branding him as a heartless business tycoon with little regard for the middle class. Those are the images, fair or not, that the Republican National Committee and Romney surrogates have tried to counter at the three-day convention, while at the same time going on the offensive, attacking Obama’s health care, regulations and handling of the economy.
“They have tried to present themselves with a human, compassionate face in contrast to the image that they are hard-core, pro-trade and don’t care about working Americans,” said Marick Masters, a business professor and director of labor at Wayne State University. “I think…they have had a good opportunity to present that message to the people…but it is really up to Romney to present himself in such a light to dispel any doubts people might have about his character and his passion for people.”
Marick said he believed the Romney-Ryan ticket will get a bounce at the end of the convention. “The question is whether Democrats will get a bounce, and that remains to be seen,” Marick said. “They don’t have much that is new to present, but they are bringing out more popular figures from the past, particularly Bill Clinton, to play a large role at the convention.”
Dave Redlawsk, political science professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University, said, “Romney is having trouble with presenting himself as a good alternative to Obama. There is a lot of discontent out there, and on the personal side, that he is just widely disliked and not well trusted. The message Republicans are trying to pound home is: ‘You have no choice. Things are not going well. You have to vote for this guy.’ That was at least Christie’s attempt. But Romney has run away from every attempt to be pinned down on anything.”
Redlawsk said he doesn’t expect either side to get much of a push from the conventions.
“The problem is we are jumping right into the Democratic convention, and I think that the old sense of that old convention style bounce is unlikely this year for either side,” Redlawsk said. “For the Republicans, it is because the Democrats will stomp on their messaging immediately.…For Obama, I don’t know that there is much room for a bounce, to the extent [that] this election is tight.”