Throughout this week Lord Ashcroft has been submitting a diary from Tampa, Florida where the Republicans met to nominate Mitt Romney for the US Presidency.
The final night of the Convention, and the last big chance to
introduce Mitt Romney to the nation. In advance of his speech, Olympians, members
of the church of which he was pastor, and former colleagues vouched sturdily,
and sometimes movingly, for the Governor's character and competence. Tom
Stemberg, the founder of Staples (in which Romney's company, Bain Capital,
invested), said he was well qualified to control government spending: when he first told Mitt about his plan for a chain
of office supply stores "he got really excited about the idea of saving a
few cents on paper clips". Clint Eastwood was a popular choice as the
surprise special guest. People think Hollywood types are all "left of
Lenin", he said, but there were some Republicans too: "they just
don't go round hotdoggin' it".
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, whom I
had met a few months ago and briefed on the state of British politics, invited
me to watch the acceptance speech from his skybox. It will soon be clear how
far Romney's performance has gone to establishing himself in the public mind as
something other than (as one insider put it) "John Kerry without the
medals". Romney's best lines contrasted his own approach with that of his
opponent: "President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and
heal the planet. [Pause for prolonged laughter]. My promise is to help you and
your family". Republican strategists anticipate only a small bounce in the
polls, but expect the jobs figures out at the end of next week to neutralise
whatever small gains Obama could expect from his own Convention.
One of the big differences between the American Conventions and
our own party conferences is that all the action happens in the evening. The
major speakers – Ann Romney, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney – have
not taken the stage until 10pm or even later, so as to hit live prime time TV
in as many time zones as they can. This makes sense but it also makes for late
nights, since the post-Convention parties only get started once the action on
the floor is over. After the Ryan speech I went along to the Kid Rock party.
You will all know who Kid Rock is, of course. He wrote the GOP's campaign song,
Another feature (along with the scale, and the spectacle, and the
headgear, and the – by British standards – syrupy speeches by candidates'
spouses), that sets the American convention apart is the gigantic autocue
screen that faces the stage from across the arena. This means that everyone in
the crowd knows what the speaker is going to say before he says it. This is
disconcerting at first but soon becomes quite captivating. It is hard to stop
oneself orating along.
Public approval of Congress is down to 11%, "which basically means
it is down to paid staffers and immediate family", says Senator John
McCain. What baffles him is why the number is so high: "I'd like to ask the 11% what they like about us.
This is the least productive Congress since 1947… so I don't know what the hell
they were doing in 1947".
"I'm a big tweeter", McCain told us proudly. Expounding his
view that the desire to move towards democracy reaches well beyond the Middle
East and North Africa, he recently teased President Putin by tweeting:
"Dear Vlad – the Arab Spring is coming to a neighbourhood near you".
He took the barrage of replies to Congressional staff for translation. "I
never knew there was so much foul language in the Russian vocabulary".
Useful parting advice from Trygve Olson, a top Republican consultant with long experience of
presidential campaigns, on how to tell who is winning in the final few
weeks. Though there is "little opportunity to shift the dynamic, unless
someone screws up", there are signs to read. If, after the debates, Obama
spends a lot of time in Michigan or Wisconsin, things are going badly for him.
If Romney appears often in North Carolina, things are moving towards Obama. If
both candidates are mostly in Virginia, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada, it is very
close. If either side says they are confident, it is too close to call. If one
side says they are enjoying a surge, it means they are going to lose.