Ann Romney's speech, an attempt to show nominee's softer side, was well-received
Ron Paul's supporters were upset about many things on the first day of the convention
Female speakers were plentiful as the GOP tries to close the gender gap
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered more introspection than many expected
The first full day of the Republican National Convention was heavy with female speakers and light on the red meat that normally fires up the base. Here are five things we learned from the convention’s first night:
1. Ann Romney’s speech lives up to expectations
Ann Romney spelled it out right near the top of her speech: “I want to talk to you tonight not about politics and not about party.”
Instead, her mission was to present to voters a softer and warmer side of her husband, something that polls show isn’t apparent to many Americans.
“I want to talk to you about the deep and abiding love I have for a man I met at a dance many years ago. And the profound love I have, and I know we share, for this country,” Romney said, adding, “I know this good and decent man for what he is: warm and loving and patient.”
The Romney campaign sees the candidate’s wife as one of his most effective surrogates, and expectations were high. She lived up to them.
Romney also used the speech to portray herself as an ordinary woman, regardless of her family’s wealth.
“We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish,” Romney said, describing their early years together. “Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining room table was a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen.”
Did she do what she needed to?
“A powerful speech from Ann Romney,” said CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, chief anchor of the network’s coverage of the convention.
CNN chief political analyst David Gergen said, “Ann Romney added to the vote that Mitt Romney is already likely to get. That was very, very important. Ann Romney’s speech has a chance to be remembered for a long time.”
CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, anchor of “State of the Union,” agreed: “I think Ann Romney gave a speech people will remember.”
Ari Fleischer, a CNN contributor and former George W. Bush White House press secretary, said, “She gave a speech from a mom’s point of view. Moms can understand” what she was saying.
2. No more “presumptive”
To roaring cheers, the New Jersey delegation put Mitt Romney over the 1,144-delegate threshold, officially making him the GOP challenger against President Barack Obama. The final tally gave the former Massachusetts governor 2,061 delegates, with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas a distant second at 190 and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with nine votes.
When Santorum suspended his bid for the Republican nomination in April, Romney became the “presumptive” nominee. Months later, the adjective is needed no more.
While it was a formality, the roll call did have a bit of drama, as it was briefly interrupted by protests from Paul supporters from the Maine delegation. And the Paul votes were not announced from the podium. The episodes highlighted the continuing bad blood between Paul supporters and other grass-roots conservatives and Romney backers.
One of the missions of the convention is to have Republicans further close ranks behind their nominee. But how happy are Republicans with Romney as their nominee?
Hours before the start of the roll call, a new CNN/ORC International poll indicated that a minority in the GOP would still like to see someone else as their nominee.
Nearly seven in 10 Republicans are happy with Romney, but the remainder say they would rather see someone else at the top of the ticket. While that might sound bad, it’s pretty good compared with the previous GOP nominee. In mid-August 2008, more than four in 10 Republicans said they would prefer someone other than Sen. John McCain at the top of the ticket.
Though this convention has finally, officially and formally brought an end to the race for the GOP nomination, it apparently hasn’t brought an end to the displeasure felt by a small minority in the party.
3. Paul supporters fight to the bitter end
The first full day of convention proceedings went largely without a glitch, except for the loud, angry protests from supporters of Paul, whose third bid for the Republican presidential nomination officially came to an end Tuesday.
Paul’s supporters were angry their candidate wasn’t speaking from the podium at his party’s official gathering. They were angry that 10 of Paul’s 20 delegates from Maine were replaced with delegates for Romney. And they were angry that the GOP changed its party rules to make grass-roots campaign efforts like Paul’s more difficult in the future.
Those new rules, pushed last week by members of Romney’s campaign, will compel states to assign delegates according to statewide vote, making it harder for candidates such as Paul to garner delegates as the primaries wear on. The rule change also drew the ire of tea party groups, who say it represents a power grab by the GOP establishment seeking to squelch outside voices.
Asked about the pushback Monday, Russ Schriefer, a Romney campaign adviser, said the GOP was a “big party” united in its effort to defeat Obama. Yet it remains to be seen whether Paul’s backers, who stuck with their candidate long after it was clear that he stood no chance of winning the GOP nomination, will cast ballots for Romney come November.
One Paul delegate, Tom Bronza, said the series of slights from the national Republicans had him seriously questioning his vote.
“The way I was treated here today, I felt like I was picked on a lot by a number of different people, so I’m not too happy about that,” Bronza said. “If I was well-received and no shenanigans, I would have considered it in November.”
4. Trying to close the gender gap?
We won’t go as far as calling it “ladies night,” but the GOP used the first evening of the convention to showcase some of the party’s rising female stars. And the final and most crucial hour of Tuesday night was highlighted by a warm and personal address by Ann Romney and a keynote speech in which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie praised his mother.
Some of the most high-profile speakers were women, ranging from congressional candidate Mia Love of Utah, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Govs. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Nikki Haley of South Carolina.
“I’m not sure if men really understand this, but I don’t think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy. In our own ways, we all know better!” Ann Romney said.
And Christie, who lost his mother eight years ago, used much of the first half of his high-profile speech to honor her, saying “In the automobile of life, Dad was just a passenger. Mom was the driver.”
Romney faces a persistent deficit among female voters in most national and key battleground state polling. According to a CNN/ORC International survey conducted last week, Obama held a 54% to 42% lead among female likely votes, with Romney holding a 53% to 43% lead among male likely voters.
Republicans are optimistic that they’ll gain ground among women voters.
“I actually think that this gender gap is going to close up,” Ayotte told Crowley.
“It’s about the debt. It’s about what we’re passing onto the next generation. And also what jobs are available for our kids that are coming out of college. And we look at the number of college kids that are unemployed or underemployed. Those are really those bread and butter issues that at the end of the day, I think are going to bring women to the polls and around to Gov. Romney,” added Ayotte.
CNN contributor and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos said the GOP is demonstrating that it’s a big tent party.
“The Republican Party is doing a good job of demonstrating the softer side of the GOP, that it is not just the party of business guys in suits,” Castellanos said.
It’s going to take a lot more than one good night for Romney to close the gap, but Tuesday night appeared like Republicans are trying.
5. Christie lite?
When Republicans announced that Christie would deliver the keynote address at their party convention, politicos anticipated a fiery, tough-talking speech from the New Jersey governor.
Delegates got the fire but also saw something rare from Christie: some introspection from someone considered to be the next Republican star.
“This stage and this moment are very improbable for me,” Christie said at the beginning of his address before telling delegates about his parents, wife and children.
He was still critical of the administration, though he never mentioned Obama by name. Christie characterized current political leaders as “paralyzed by our desire to be loved,” saying it was more important for the United States to be respected than well-liked.
He called the past four years an “era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office,” a sharp rebuke of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and made the case that Democrats have “failed America” by increasing the size and scope of the federal government.
But the thrust of Christie’s speech harked back to what he’s become most famous for: saying what other politicians won’t.
“We must lead the way our citizens live,” Christie said of elected officials. “To lead as my mother insisted I live, not by avoiding truths, especially the hard ones, but by facing up to them and being the better for it.”
In the early days of this cycle’s GOP primary, many Republican donors urged Christie to jump into the contest himself, arguing that his no-nonsense style would be an effective counterbalance to Obama’s larger themes of hope and change.
Christie gave serious thought to a presidential bid, ultimately deciding against a run. But his truth-telling has been displayed frequently on the campaign trail for Romney, whom he endorsed in October amid a contentious battle for the GOP primary.
By telling the convention crowd Tuesday that Republicans were willing to offer harsh truths to Americans, Christie was also playing up his strongest, most characteristic personality trait.
“We’ve never been a country to shy away from the truth,” Christie said. He could also have been talking about himself.