CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified Kansas Republican Party Vice Chairman Kelly Arnold.
Tropical Storm Isaac barely spritzed and tousled the Republican National Convention on its way past Tampa, and even as it bears toward New Orleans, GOP delegates are confident that the storm won’t affect their key mission here: selling Mitt Romney and his economic plans to undecided voters.
Delegates spent Monday screening movies, playing board games, soaking up panel discussions, and, for those from the Gulf Coast, fretting about potential storm damage back home.
Meanwhile, party leaders and the Romney camp planned contingencies—including possibly scaling back the convention even further—in the event that Isaac slams Louisiana at hurricane force and invokes comparisons to Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.
That’s not what Republicans want or need to be doing. Polls released this week confirm that Romney is running even with President Obama but that he still is struggling to win over a critical mass of voters dissatisfied with Obama’s handling of the economy. The polls suggest that Romney must convince those voters that his economic plan is worth trying.
A poll released on Monday by the Republican strategy firm Resurgent Republic showed both sides of that coin. Only a third of independent voters agree with the statement “Obama’s economic plan is working and we need to stay the course,” while two-thirds agree that Obama’s plan “is not working and we need to try something else.” But on the one specific plank of Romney’s plan that it tested—cutting corporate tax rates while closing loopholes—voters split, with 40 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed. The poll shows the race statistically tied nationally.
The Obama dissatisfaction leaves Romney an opening. The convention is one of his last high-attention moments—along with the three presidential debates—before November to exploit it.
“Everybody knows Barack Obama; he’s in our living room every day,” said former Republican National Committee chairman and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. “But what people know about Romney today and what people know about Romney Friday will be all the difference in the world.”
From that standpoint, Isaac’s biggest toll on the former Massachusetts governor comes in opportunity costs. Monday’s convention events weren’t scheduled to be televised in network prime time, but canceling them nevertheless deprived Republicans of a day of news coverage devoted to critiques of Obama’s economic policies and comparisons to Romney’s.
Few Republicans appear worried that those costs will be very high or very difficult to recoup later in the week.
“We’re going to have the next three days of the convention, and it’s going to be a success, and I’m pretty confident of that,” Kelly Arnold, Kansas Republican Party vice chairman, said. “I’m not worried about losing the message. Even if [the convention] were canceled, it’s still the talk of the media and people back home of what’s going on here.”
Whit Ayres, the pollster who conducted the Resurgent Republic survey, said that three days “will be fine” for Romney to make the case.
“The most important point of Governor Romney giving people a sense that he has a better idea [on the economy] is Thursday night,” when he addresses the convention in prime time, Ayres said. “He needs voters to believe that he has a clear understanding of how to do a better job than Obama has in getting the economy going.”
Ayres was asked: Can Romney make that case?
“That’s why we run campaigns,” he replied, with a smile.
Fawn Johnson, Ron Fournier, and Josh Krashaauer contributed