What Mitt Romney needs to achieve at GOP national convention

Mitt Romney needs to keep the focus on the travails of the US economy under Obama, and to humanize himself by telling his personal story, Republican analysts said during the Sunday talk shows, in advance of this week's GOP national convention.

Evan Vucci/AP
Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney kisses his wife, Ann, during a campaign rally on Friday in Commerce, Mich.

Mitt Romney’s task at the Republican National Convention this week will be to keep the focus on the struggles of the US economy under President Obama and to tell an appealing personal story about his life and accomplishments, according to conservative politicos and commentators speaking during appearances on the Sunday talk shows.

Mr. Romney will also strive, they said, to steer the conversation clear of political land mines such as the recent "legitimate rape" comment by Rep. Todd Akin (R) of Missouri.

Romney will show he’s “a good, decent man who gave away his father’s inheritance, and everything he did, he did to success,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on CBS’s "Face the Nation." “I think both Republican and Democratic parents are wishing for their kids' success and the American dream and not the glass-half-empty America that President Obama is trying to sell this country."

Recent polling data show the vast distance Romney needs to make up against Mr. Obama in terms of connecting with voters.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in August shows Obama with a 58 percent to 23 percent lead in being judged “easygoing and likable,” a 52 percent to 24 percent lead in issues concerning women, and, perhaps most important, a 52 percent to 30 percent advantage in being perceived as caring about average people.

A step toward introducing Mitt Romney, Family Man, was evident in a joint interview of Mitt and Ann Romney aired on "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."

The couple laughed often, with Mitt looking on admiringly as Ann answered several sharp questions from Mr. Wallace about her political disagreements with her husband (she demurred) and their feelings about Planned Parenthood (to which Ann had donated in the past and which Mitt has said would lose its federal funding under a Romney administration.)

The two shared a big laugh when Ann said she didn’t weigh in on policy matters.

“I didn’t know she didn’t give advice on policy,” Mitt said with a broad smile.

Ann Romney even offered her advice for shopping at bulk retailer Costco: “You take a sharp right, go way down to the back of the store, shop the outside of the aisles.”

She also said she recently bought Mitt several Kirkland dress shirts, Costco’s store brand, that retail for about $20 each. Romney, with a net worth on the order of a quarter of a billion dollars, said he liked the shirts very much (even though they’d be much cheaper than the $135 dress shirt on his back in November, The Washington Post tracked down).

(Costco founder and former chief executive officer Jim Sinegal, incidentally, is a heavy backer of Democratic causes and will have a speaking role at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., when the Democrats convene there starting Sept. 4.)

Romney can't appear to be all Mr. Nice Guy, though, during the convention. He needs to keep the pressure on Obama about the lackluster state of the economy, the analysts said.

“If you don’t have a job, you don’t care about his bedside manner,” said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) on "Fox News Sunday." “You care about his surgical skills.”

That’s a conversation Romney is almost sure have during his acceptance speech on Thursday.

“I believe that if people stand back and consider all that America has to deal with going forward, they’ll recognize that we’re the only team that has answers for these challenges,” Romney said Sunday on the Fox show. “And they’re big and bold answers. America needs that kind of help at a time when so many people are out of work or underemployed or having a hard time making ends meet.”

By pushing forward on the economy, several said, he will be able to keep the conversation on favorable terms – and avoid straying into several of the campaign’s recent small-bore tiffs.

"If Mitt Romney can get the economy out there, it will crowd out the distractions,” said GOP strategist Mike Murphy on NBC’s "Meet The Press."

Those include a Romney quip Friday about his birth certificate and statements by Representative Akin, a candidate for US Senate, about why there's no need for abortion in cases of “legitimate rape.” The Akin statement was condemned from many corners of the Republican Party (including Romney) and many Republicans called for him to drop out of the Senate race. 

“Life issues are always important. It’s a powerful moral issue, [and] people have deeply held beliefs. But it’s not going to change the economic climate of our country,” said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) on "Meet The Press." “I think Republicans need to be disciplined to stay focused on sustained economic growth.”

That will be a challenge, as the Sunday shows demonstrated, as the four major programs all featured discussions of Akin’s remarks, for example. But that will be Romney’s challenge.

“Governor Romney has a chance at this convention and going forward," said Mr. Bush, "to reconnect with people – to show who he is, what’s in his heart. And I think the acceptance speech is a great place to start.” 

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