In a week, Republicans will gather in Tampa for an event that is an important one for Mitt Romney. While I've argued before that modern conventions no longer have the interest of a mass audience, there is still a large viewership and one that is curious about Mitt Romney. There have been few long-form looks at Mitt Romney where he has gotten a chance to tell his story without being barked at and gnawed on, first by his tenacious Republican opponents and then by the Obama squad. In Tampa, he will get that chance. What should we be watching for?
As a kind of viewer’s guide to the Republican convention, here are some story lines:
1. Will Romney be overshadowed by some of the Republican “longed-fors,” notably Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, who have prominent speaking roles and followings? Will they steal the show from Romney, as a young Illinois senator named Barack Obama did in 2004, when his speech let the crowd know that he was the future and John Kerry the past?
2. How will the convention message strategists balance the need to fire up the base but not alienate whatever swing voters might be left? Usually conventions keep the crazy uncles locked in the basement, but Republicans are going to need a very large basement with double-locks to keep the tea party and social extremists out. What might these two groups insist on in the platform? Will Rick Santorum control himself?
3. Will Romney achieve a breakthrough with his convention speech? It is rare, but it happens. In 1988, George H.W. Bush gave his “kinder and gentler” speech and erased many of the doubts that plagued his candidacy. Al Gore did it in 2000 when he said, “I stand here tonight as my own man . . .” and started a surge in his candidacy that, well, you know what happened.
4. Will Obama’s campaign have an August surprise for Romney, something compelling enough to draw press attention and force Romney on the defensive? Both campaigns churn out talking points and fact sheets and “pre-buttals” to try to mess with the other's conventions, but it doesn't usually amount to much. Could Chicago have something more interesting in store?
5. Will Romney get a measurable bump from his time in Tampa? He could use it.