Welcome to Nightcap, where National Journal’s correspondents take you inside today’s convention—and what’s happening after hours.
An Ambitious Speech and a New Approach
Muting ideology, Mitt Romney sought to reach voters disappointed in President Obama’s performance but fond of him personally by constructing a case against his reelection framed more in sorrow than anger.
During Romney's march to the GOP nomination, the former governor portrayed Obama as a threat to traditional American values, inspired by the social welfare states of Europe. But on Thursday, he used a softer appeal that sought to reassure Obama supporters from 2008 that it was not a betrayal of their initial excitement to reject him now.
Romney sought to accomplish many things in a performance that was more solid than soaring. Much of the speech seemed defensive, intended to respond to political problems. But he gained strength when he turned to his core asset in the campaign: the anxiety over the economy that many voters feel.
The speech may well increase the share of Americans who like Romney. It’s less clear that the week resolved his larger problem: the resistance he faces among voters who are uncertain he understands the problems of average families. Romney made a forceful effort to present himself as the man with a plan. The lingering question is whether enough voters will see themselves as the beneficiaries.
An Unsexy Pitch May Just Be Enough
Mitt Romney punched his checklist: outreach to female voters and those who backed Obama in 2008; vague outlines of economic restoration; vows of educational improvements.
But Romney truly hit his stride Thursday night when he sketched a return to American exceptionalism, ripping Obama for a purported “apology tour” and vowing to show Russian President Vladimir Putin “more backbone.”
“That united America, can unleash an economy that will put Americans back to work, that will once again lead the world with innovation and productivity, and that will restore every father and mother's confidence that their children's future is brighter even than the past,” Romney said.
His message: We achieved something historic in 2008 in electing President Obama, but it’s time to return to the trajectory of ascent. It’s a salient theme, and holds the concession that Romney is not the transformative figure that Obama is. What he will do, it said between the lines, is instill a sense of normalcy.
It’s not the sexiest pitch, but it may be enough.
The Olympian Task of Remaking Romney's Image
In Latin, the motto is “citius, altius, forties” and translates into the modern Olympic creed as "faster, higher, stronger."
In personal tributes, tear-choked testimonials, and a home-movie-textured video, Mitt Romney's friends, family, and business partners tried to bring speed, height, and strength to the Olympian task of remaking Romney's image on Thursday.
From stories about sweeping up in church to building a new business on discount office supplies, it was a tour de force of charity, clarity, and domestic dexterity.
The reticent Romney, before accepting his party's nomination, deferred to others to extol virtues largely hidden from public view. Cynics might call it subcontracting. Surrogates would call it modesty.
By whatever name, it was a concentrated counterpoint to attacks on his wealth and tax forms, jobs lost and lives shattered amid Bain Capital decisions, and an alleged indifference to the humdrum of life.
Romney's campaign depends on this new narrative resonating long after the balloons and confetti are swept up (not by Romney).
Two hours is unlikely to be enough. That means that Romney advocates will have to move faster, higher, and stronger than Romney's critics or Romney himself to boost his likability and trustworthiness.
Rubio's Appeal Lies in His Oratory
Marco Rubio demonstrated again on Thursday why he is one of the country’s most talented politicians. Like President Obama, he is a storyteller.
The Florida senator started off his speech reminiscing about his polio-stricken grandfather, who liked to talk politics and baseball on the porch while smoking cigars. Rubio described the jingling of his father’s keys after a 16-hour day tending bar, and waking up to see his mother coming home from the night shift at K-Mart.
Of his father, Rubio added, “He stood behind a bar in the back of the room all those years, so one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room.”
Rubio is also a skilled prosecutor of the Obama administration, but his greater gift is his ability to speak in pictures and poetry.
While Romney spoke about his love of family, church, and community, he did not tell stories about himself.
Romney’s reserved nature doesn't mean he wouldn't be a good president. But without stories, he will continue to struggle to connect with voters who are hungry for Rubio’s uplifting tales of the American dream.
WHERE’S THE PARTY?
Latino Coalition After-Party With Journey
After its reception celebrating Hispanic heritage, the Latino Coalition holds an invitation-only after-party blowout, featuring the 1970s supergroup Journey. Likely guests include Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and White House party crasher Michaele Salahi, who is dating Journey guitarist Neal Schon. Starts at 10 p.m. Liberty Plaza, 180 S. Morgan St.
Fueling the Future
Three words: Zac. Brown. Band. The country-music phenom will be playing at this invitation-only event hosted by the American Petroleum Institute. The institute's chief lobbyist, Jack Gerard, is a close friend of Romney’s, and members of the Romney family are rumored to be on the guest list. Starts at 10 p.m. Tampa Port Authority, Terminal 3, 815 Channelside Drive.
OTHER EVENTS TONIGHT:
- '80s After-Party, 9 p.m. at the Ampitheatre, 1609 E. Seventh Ave. Contact: 813-873-8368
- Camp Freddy Concert, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. at 1 Oak Tent, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, 600 N. Ashley Drive. By invitation only.
- Yacht Party, 11 p.m.-2 a.m. at the Yacht Star Ship, 603 Channelside Drive.
- Scott Walker Victory Party, 11 p.m.-2:30 a.m. at the Tampa Club, 101 E. Kennedy Blvd. #4200. Contact: 608-770-2819
- Alabama Dance Party, 11 p.m.-2:30 a.m. at the Chart House, 7616 W. Courtney Campbell Causeway. Contact: 608-770-2819
- Louisiana Party, 11:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m. at the University Club of Tampa, 201 N. Franklin St., 38th floor. Contact: 608-770-2819