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Romney tests Tampa momentum; Democrats hope to blunt it in Charlotte

From The CNN Political Unit
updated 10:30 AM EDT, Sat September 1, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mitt Romney heads for Isaac-affected Gulf Coast; Paul Ryan stumps in Virginia
  • Romney adviser: "We didn't need to move a mountain. We just needed to push forward"
  • As the nominee, Romney now is free to spend big bucks on ads
  • Democrats' convention will aim to blunt whatever bounce Romney gets

Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN) -- Mitt Romney departed Tampa, Florida, on Friday hoping to ride any momentum he had built up over the past week as he makes the final turn into the November election.

Romney's acceptance address won't go down as often quoted but it got the job done. He introduced his version of himself to America after months of his persona being defined by President Barack Obama's campaign and allies. He and running mate Paul Ryan tried to plant a seed of doubt about the next four years of an Obama administration. They didn't offer much in the way of specifics about how a Romney administration would shift the sluggish economy into a higher gear but had plenty of reasons why Obama's administration hasn't.

Even Romney's advisers weren't predicting a slingshot out of the convention, but they didn't sound as if they were expecting one.

CNN contributors: Did Romney gain ground?

"We didn't need to move a mountain," a Romney adviser told CNN's Candy Crowley. "We just needed to push forward, move the ball down the court, and he did."

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers his acceptance speech on the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday, August 30. See the best photos from the Democratic National Convention. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers his acceptance speech on the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday, August 30. See the best photos from the Democratic National Convention.
Republican convention: The best photos
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Democrats hope they can slow whatever momentum that comes out of Tampa with their convention that starts on Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"Whatever there is, I think we can blunt that pretty quickly," one an official with Obama's re-election team said last week while speaking with reporters at CNN.

Perhaps bigger than whatever bounce Romney might get out of the convention will be his ability to go on an ad spending spree. Federal law prevented Romney from spend the millions of dollars he's been sitting on until he officially became the party's nominee. That will allow Romney to spread his message far beyond the campaign trail.

Republicans sent their ticket off from Tampa before Romney and Ryan split up so that Romney could visit Louisiana at the invitation of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had been considered as a Romney running mate, to tour areas damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

Touring New Orleans with Jindal and Sen. David Vitter, Romney said he was there to "learn and obviously to draw some attention to what's going here so that people around the country know that people down here need help." Ryan went on to Virginia, where he continued a theme that emerged in his and Romney's convention speeches: that the president isn't a bad guy -- it's just that his policies are wrong.

"We are not going to go to you and say, 'Vote against the other guy because he's no good.'" Ryan told a crowd in Richmond. "We could do that because the record's no good, but we want to do more than that. You deserve more than that.

"We're offering solutions. We're offering specific ideas. We're saying here's how you take these principles that built America: liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination, government by consent of the government."

John Avlon: Is that the best Romney can do?

Pushing those principles also emerged in the convention as did a common theme accusing the president of division and demagoguery -- perhaps a preemptive assault on the Democrats' message coming out of Charlotte next week.

The Romney camp knows it has to make women and young voters take a second look at the Republican ticket and shore up middle-class support if it has any chance of winning the race, which has been locked in a dead heat for most of the summer. And that was part of the plan for Tampa -- to make Romney more palatable to the first two groups and raise doubts about Obama in the third.

"You listened to the last guy running for president who laid out his plan, but he was unable to do it," Romney said before leaving Florida. Give someone else a chance. Hold us accountable."

Who won and who lost in Tampa

Obama's challenge next week is to erase any doubts among women and young voters and keep the middle class from being seduced by Romney's message.

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To that end, former President Bill Clinton will put Obama's name into nomination. The 42nd president has been appearing in ads touting Obama's economic policies.

"He's a great validator of what we want. He's viewed as an expert on how to move the economy forward and how to build it from the middle class out," one official said. "There are few people who can speak to that authoritatively, and he's one of them -- because he's done it. He's sat in the chair."

Expect much of the program to play off the president's likeability ratings and how voters feel he can better empathize with their struggles while painting the GOP as more focused on what they call failed policies of the past; the Democrats also will likely paint Ryan's radical reform plans for Medicare and other entitlement programs as rewarding the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

Obama told Time magazine in an interview this week that Democrats are not proposing radical solutions, and the nation doesn't need drastic changes.

"If you're willing to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, then you can make modest reforms on entitlements, reduce some additional discretionary spending, achieve deficit reduction and still preserve Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid in ways that people can count on," Obama told Time, later adding that the country needs "some commonsense solutions that stay focused on helping middle-class families."

"The only reason that you would have to go further than that is if there's no revenue whatsoever," he said. "And that's a major argument that we're having with the Republicans."

First lady Michelle Obama will also have a prominent role, speaking on the convention's first night.

Campaign officials said the first lady helps augment the campaign's strategy to use the convention as a way to show "what drives (the president) every day."

One of the Democrats' leading protagonists, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said her party's convention will have a different feel from that of the GOP.

"We're gonna have the most inclusive -- very different from this week's invitation-only, special interest-funded corporate-infused affair.

CNN's Tom Cohen, John Helton, Kevin Liptak, Shawna Shepherd, Paul Steinhauser and Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.

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