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Watching Isaac, GOP Delays Opening Convention


On the final Monday of August, it's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. The Republican National Convention will not start today as scheduled. Tropical Storm Isaac and an abundance of caution will cause the convention to start a day late.

INSKEEP: Mitt Romney will arrive at that convention, though, with a chance to win the presidency. Despite a summer of awkward headlines, a much-debated running mate and days of distractions, Romney trails by only a point or two when you average out recent national polls. Now, Republicans work to aim their fire at President Obama.

Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Even at a shortened three days with the TV networks cutting their coverage to just one hour a night, Tampa offers a huge opportunity for Mitt Romney. He'll finally control the script, a chance to move beyond distracting discussions about rape or birth certificates.

Even as the delegates streamed into Tampa, Romney was working the moment, sitting for a series of TV interviews meant to reveal what's behind his sometimes stiff and awkward exterior.

GREENE: Yesterday, he let Fox News film him flipping pancakes with his grandson at his summer home in New Hampshire. But even in this moment, the job of humanizing him was left largely to his wife, Ann.


LIASSON: The convention planners have taken a number of steps to warm up the reticent Romney image. They've built a wood-paneled set to look like a living room - a friendly contrast, says Republican strategist Ed Rogers, to the bitter campaign.

ED ROGERS: He's been through a very unflattering year. The Republican primary process was hand-to-hand, ugly combat. He came right out of that with Obama pounding him as an out-of-touch billionaire, a corporate raider.

LIASSON: In Tampa, says Rogers, Romney can tell his own story about Bain Capital, managing the Olympics and governing Massachusetts.

ROGERS: I think that he can set a good contrast with Obama starting this week. Obama, what was cool four years ago, has become smug. And I think a contrast to that, to be a happy warrior is part of what Romney's got to do at his convention.

LIASSON: The Obama campaign is trying to make that as difficult as possible. A new Web ad ridicules Romney for having the highest negative personal ratings of any challenger to an incumbent president.


LIASSON: One thing Romney doesn't have to worry about is getting his party behind him. Choosing Paul Ryan for vice president took care of that. The Ryan pick may not have given the GOP ticket much of a bounce nationally, but it's also true that Ryan, who supports changing Medicare into a voucher program, has yet to be the big negative Democrats hoped he would be with seniors in states like Florida. Ryan has helped tighten the race in one battleground: his own home state of Wisconsin, says Brian Schimming, the vice chair of the state GOP.

BRIAN SCHIMMING: It's huge energy. The last two polls that came out both had Romney and Ryan up by one. So I think what you're seeing here is about a five-to-seven point bump. At least for now, those numbers are sticking.

LIASSON: At the Mainsail Hotel here in Tampa, the Ohio delegation is getting ready for a night out on the town. Ohio state party chair Bob Bennett says for all the attention both parties have paid to their loyalists, this is the week for Romney to start targeting undecided voters, the key to winning swing states like Ohio.

BOB BENNETT: The target voter is really a voter who considers himself an independent voter, who thinks about the issues and may have voted of Barack Obama in 2008, I think it's just the opposite now, is that President Obama has had four years to address those problems that concern the people, and frankly, they haven't been addressed.

LIASSON: As for Tropical Storm Isaac, Republicans like Brian Schimming are confident it won't disrupt the convention and may even draw more voters to the news.

SCHIMMING: People tend to like to watch big weather events, so they'll do that. And a lot of the coverage about this weather event is also about the convention itself. So, actually, it's not going to hurt much. It might help a little. It might be the lead-in story.

LIASSON: The lead-in to what Republicans hope will be the big story of the week: Mitt Romney's national debut as the nominee of the Republican Party.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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