Like baseball players who come to Florida for spring training, Republicans came to Tampa hoping to get their ticket punched – their national ticket that is.
The Republicans seemed to have at least three major goals at their national nominating convention that they completed last night at Tampa: unify and excite the base, humanize their nominee, Mitt Romney, and neutralize the Medicare issue.
Here is a look at the three goals:
EXCITE THEIR BASE: Ever since President Ronald Reagan left office in 1989, the GOP has been looking for a first-rate political leader to fill his shoes. The Republican conservatives may like and admire the Bushes, John McCain and Mitt Romney, but those political leaders have never set their hearts aflame.
But vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan looks as though he might be the political leader many conservatives have been looking for. Others say they like what they see, but it is too soon to tell. But Republicans agree that Ryan is a rare political talent – with the ability to master complicated issues, and to fire up the base without scaring off swing voters.
“This man could be the next Ronald Reagan,” said state Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews. “He has the credentials. He speaks well. He brings it down so that the average Jill and Jack can understand it.”
“The man is 42 years old,” Rucho added. “What is scary to a lot of (Democrats) is that not only does he have the skills and the talent and the ability, and the vision, but he reflects the future generation of the leadership of this country.”
The fact that he is a Generation Xer also appeals to some Republican delegates.
“He has a lot of the same issues that we have,” said Jason Lemons, 40, a pharmaceutical consultant from Fuquay-Varina and a delegate. “He has small children. He has a mother who is going to be going through retirement issues in the next few years. He is a lot more like us.”
Lemons also loves his conservative fiscal message. “We love George Bush,” Lemons said. “But some of this goes back to his spending days as well. We are spending money we don’t have.”
But Ryan also appeals to social conservatives such as Cornelia Groce of Winston-Salem, a 43-year banker. “He is very strong in his faith and he can appeal to Christian conservatives,” she said. “He is also a strong family man.”
The Republicans were already determined to defeat President Barack Obama. Ryan’s emergence seems to have energized the party and to give them another reason to turn out at the polls in November.
HUMANIZING MITT: Romney’s resume as business executive and governor were well known. But the polls suggest that he was still not connecting on a personal level with many swing voters, who saw him as too distant, or too rich or not connected to their lives.
At North Carolina delegation breakfasts, speakers related anecdotes about Romney as an individual. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talked about having hamburgers in the backyard with Romney An aide recalled Romney using duct tape to fix a campaign bus air-conditioning unit.
Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife, was the main vehicle, sharing some of the struggles in the couple’s marriage: raising five boys, her struggles with MS and breast cancer
“She humanized him, said Steve Malay, a delegate from Carteret County. “They had to struggle. This business of her never having a job or just being a housewife is just a bunch of hooey.”
NEUTRALIZE MEDICARE: The risk for Romney in choosing Ryan is that it throws right into the campaign the future of Medicare, the government-run health care program for seniors. Medicare was started by Democrats in the 1960s – over conservative opposition – and it is an issue that usually has worked for Democrats.
As part of the House budget Ryan crafted, he proposed to allow seniors who are now under 55 to opt out of Medicare for a voucher system that would allow them to buy private insurance. Critics say the plan would shift more of the costs to seniors.
Having been burned by what they call the Democrats’ “Mediscare” tactics in the past, the Republicans spent a lot of time at the convention on the offensive. They both attacked the $716 billion that the Obama plan proposes to cut from Medicare over the next decade to health care providers (as did the Ryan plan) and emphasized that no existing seniors would be touched by Ryan’s proposal.
At a North Carolina caucus breakfast meeting Thursday, U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, part of the House Republican leadership, had the delegates repeat after him: “NO CHANGES FOR THOSE OVER 55.”
It seems obvious that the Republicans are still very worried about this issue.