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Throughout this week Lord Ashcroft will be submitting a diary from Tampa, Florida where the Republicans are meeting to nominate Mitt Romney for the US Presidency.

LADIARY

The thing
that makes this election so hard to call is that according to historical
precedent, neither candidate can possibly win. Presidents do not get re-elected
when their job approval is as low, and unemployment is as high, as it is for
Obama. But challengers do not win when their personal negatives are as high as
Romney's. Another yardstick it at hand. Since 1964, with one exception in
Michael Dukakis, the victor has been the candidate who led in the Gallup poll
100 days before election day. So who was it, Obama or Romney? It was a tie: 46%
to 46%.

***

Given the
state of the economy and the disappointment with the President's record, says
Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report, Romney ought to be
comfortably five points ahead. Romney himself is the main reason why this is
not the case: "He has a keen analytical mind, you can see why he is one of
the top corporate problem solvers. At the same time, if he had taken one of those
Myers Briggs tests, I don't know that it would have suggested he go into
politics". In addition, while the party's potential supporters have always
divided between "country club Republicans" and "truck stop
Republicans", the Democrats' greater appeal among white collar classes
means there are now more of the latter, while Romney is naturally one
of the former.

***

If Romney is
largely a blank slate in the public mind, the same is even more true of Paul
Ryan. As his speech on Wednesday night showed, he is tremendously popular with
activists, but they are the only ones who know anything about him outside his
Wisconsin Congressional district. Republicans here say his selection as the
Vice Presidential nominee shows the seriousness of Romney's candidacy. With
echoes of George W. Bush's choice of Dick Cheney in 2000, the decision seems to
have been taken with an eye to governing at least as much as for what he can
bring to the campaign. Ryan's case against Obama was that he had wasted
borrowed money trying to create a culture of entitlement: the President wants
"a country where everything is free but us".



***

Anyone
hoping the debates will be a game-changer for Romney is going to be
disappointed, according to Cook. Debates matter, but are only decisive in
certain circumstances. In 1980, voters found
Reagan likeable but were not sure he was smart enough. The debates answered
that question and broke his deadlock with Carter; he won by 10 points. But
voters do not doubt that Romney has a sound command of the issues: they need to
know more about his values and character. The debates are hardly the best
platform to begin connecting with people on a personal level. This makes the
Convention all the more important. Meanwhile, Hurricane Isaac continues to blow.

***

The co-chairman of the
Commission on Presidential Debates is Frank Farenkopf, once a close colleague
of President Reagan and chairman of the Republican National Committee. The
negotiations over the debate details can be byzantine. In 1998, the Commission
had to put the six foot two President Bush behind a podium next to the
diminutive Michael Dukakis. The solution was to build a "bubble" for
Dukakis to stand on, with the stipulation that the top of the podium would
reach the third button on each candidate's shirt.

***

Grover Norquist is the very engaging founder and president of
Americans for Tax Reform. Recalling President Obama's 2008 campaign
promise that "no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form
of tax increase", ATR have taken him at his word and produced an Obamacare
Tax Exemption Card. "The bearer of this card earns less than $250,000 a
year and is thus exempt from the following direct and indirect Obamacare
taxes", it says, before listing nine. "Present this card to
merchants, employers and tax authorities. If validity of card is questioned,
ask, 'Are you calling President Obama a liar?'" Norquist has some funny
lines. "Gun owners are two to one for Romney over Obama. So if you're
looking for Christmas gifts for your unarmed friends, shop early".

***

The
Republicans' deficit among minority voters has been a recurring theme. For
Cook, Romney's continued hard line on immigration can only be damaging,
especially among Latinos. While the Governor is not going to win among this
group whatever he does, losing them by 28 points rather than 35 points could be
the difference between victory and defeat. At the same time, they should never
be thought of as a monolithic group, and given their deep-seated suspicion of
Republicans they would not have responded to a late gesture such as picking
Marco Rubio as Romney's running mate. This would have been a mistake, says
Cook: "picking a Cuban American to go after Mexican Americans and
Dominicans would be like saying 'we need to suck up to the Irish, let's pick an
Englishman'."

***

The Congressional elections also taking place on 6 November will
be critical in determining how much of his programme Obama or Romney is able to
enact. "It would take a pretty substantial act of our Lord to lose our
majority in the House", says Barry Jackson, senior counsellor to House
Speaker John Boehner. They hope to make gains too, thanks to what the Speaker
calls his Orphan Programme for supporting Republican candidates in tight races
outside the Presidential battleground states. Until recently the party had high
hopes of taking back the Senate. The Todd Akin debacle could be damaging here.
"They need to find a way to replace him as soon as possible, and with a
woman", says one well-placed observer. "Claire McCaskill [the
Democrat incumbent] is extremely vulnerable. Any other candidate would have
beaten her like a rented mule".

***

ChristieDespite its
long-term demographic difficulties, one thing the Republican Party has going
for it is an extremely strong "bench". Governor Chris Christie of New
Jersey, whose keynote speech on Tuesday is already regarded as an all-time
Convention great, remains a popular prospect for the future having proved his
ability to appeal to a heavily Democratic state. Jeb Bush, meanwhile, would be
the nominee already were it not for his surname, according to Charlie Cook.
"Every three months he gets a geiger counter and holds it up to his name,
and when it goes 'gzzzzzzz' he says, 'damn, still radioactive'. One day it will
just crackle a bit, and he'll say, 'OK, now I can run'."

***

One thing
you would struggle to pick up about this Convention from the American media,
certainly the broadcasters, is the friction that persists between the Ron Paul
supporters and the party mainstream. During the early proceedings on the floor
Convention floor there was open acrimony, complete with chanting and booing.
Anything like that at a party conference in Britain would be the lead story, at
least on the BBC, taking up the first 20 minutes of the Six O'Clock News and an
extended edition of Newsnight.

 ***

Hannan Dan DPThe "business casual" dress code prescribed
by our hosts has met a variety of interpretations. Many of the global
parliamentarians are wearing ties, I can report, though not usually the
Australians (former Prime Ministers excepted). Our own delegation is
perhaps the most stylish, including as it does Dan Hannan, resplendent as
ever in his cream linen, and Sajid Javid, sporting a fetching light tweed.
On the Convention floor, bizarre headgear signifying the wearer's home state
(the Wisconsin delegation favours big blocks of foam cheese, for example) mixes
incongruously with smart blazers, often on the same person.

> Read yesterday's Diary entry.

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