CONVENTION WATCH: Party's over, race is on

August 31, 2012 - 2:50 AM
Republican Convention

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney watches as the balloons fall during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Convention Watch shows you the 2012 political conventions through the eyes of Associated Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

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NOW THE HARD PART

The balloons are popping, one by one. Just a few white beach balls continue to bop across the floor of the Republican National Convention hall. Delegates are slowly making their way out into the humid Tampa night.

And Mitt Romney — Republican presidential nominee — is heading out on what may be the most challenging 67 days of his life.

In this Florida city, before a national audience, the former Massachusetts governor accomplished quite a bit of what he hoped to do at his convention: He and running mate Paul Ryan focused on the economy and forcefully made the argument that President Barack Obama hasn't been able to fix it. Again and again, they sounded a theme not of anger but of disappointment — disappointment in the way the country is going, disappointment in Obama's performance.

Romney did one other thing: He talked about his life, spoke personally, in front of one of the biggest television audiences he will have for the entire campaign.

He'll get a few other chances — during the debates, especially the first critical one. But whether he managed at this convention to make the elusive but critical connection with voters that he seemed to need remains to be seen.

It's an election that's about the economy, we all tell each other each day. And we're right. But it's also about whom we like the best, trust the most and feel comfortable with.

Now he is a nominee, officially. Out he goes to make his case.

— Sally Buzbee, bureau chief for AP Washington

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BETTER OFF?

Mitt Romney says that since the Great Depression, every president seeking a second term — except two — could look back on four years in office and say "you are better off today than you were four years ago."

The two exceptions, says Romney: Democrats Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

But he left a third name off that list — Republican George H.W. Bush.

Mitt Romney is right that more Americans feel worse off today than feel better off.

In the most recent AP-GfK poll of all adults, 28 percent said they were better off today than four years ago, while 36 percent said they were worse off and 36 percent said they were in about the same financial position.

But the CBS/New York Times poll the October that Bush was seeking re-election found 23 percent of registered voters said they were better off than four years ago, and 36 percent worse off. Forty percent felt about the same.

In August of that year (1992) it was 23 percent better, 34 percent worse, 42 percent about the same, among all adults.

— Jennifer Agiesta — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennagiesta

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NO HOLDING BACK

When Hurricane Isaac — now a tropical depression — led Republicans to cancel the convention's first day, many questioned whether it would be smart to tone down the glitz and the glam for the remaining days.

Some even speculated that the GOP might move Mitt Romney's speech to a smaller venue, allowing him to accept his nomination without appearing to party with neighboring states still reeling.

There were no signs that anything was toned down.

Confetti and thousands of balloons rained down on delegates, while images of fireworks appeared behind Romney. Some delegates appeared to be wearing patriotic-themed costumes. Musical performances got the audience riled up.

Although Romney made no mention of Isaac, other speakers did, sending their thoughts and prayers to those suffering. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, in her speech, implored those watching to donate to the Red Cross.

— Josh Lederman — Twitter http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

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THE PLANET, HEALED?

Mitt Romney got a big laugh from his Republican audience when he criticized President Barack Obama for promising Americans that he would "begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet." In contrast, Romney said, "My promise is to help you and your family."

Did Obama actually make such a statement? Yes, pretty much.

In a June 2008 speech marking his victory in the Democratic primaries, Obama said generations from now, "we will be able to look back and tell our children that ... this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."

Obama backed a climate-change bill that passed the House in 2009. A similar bill died in Senate in 2010. Opinion is mixed whether he worked hard to get it passed.

— Calvin Woodward

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THE WORD: 'MORMON'

Mitt Romney rarely uses the word Mormon. Instead, he talks about "my faith" or uses similar phrases to describe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

But in his acceptance speech delivered at the Republican National Convention on Thursday night, the Republican nominee for president used the word outright. And in the process, he also directly addressed the question of whether some Americans — those unfamiliar with Mormonism — might find his faith unusual or unfamiliar.

"We were Mormons, and growing up in Michigan that might have seemed unusual or out of place," the candidate said. "But I really don't remember it that way. My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we went to."

— Sally Buzbee

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NEXT PAGE, PLEASE

"Today the time has come to turn the page." — newly minted GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, in an acceptance speech in which he repeatedly referred to Barack Obama not by name but as "this president."

— Ted Anthony — Twitter http://twitter.com/anthonyted

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THE STAGE

As Mitt Romney entered his convention hall through a side door, walking through the crowds on the floor, a group of several workers rushed to the stage to move the podium forward onto the stage, closer to the crowd.

Most of the night's speakers spoke at the podium back on the main part of the stage. But Romney's podium was moved forward onto a part of the stage that jutted out into the crowd of delegates. The protruding part of the stage was built overnight — and it allows Romney to be photographed with delegates on three sides.

By the time Romney reached his convention stage, the workers were gone — and the podium in its new position.

— Sally Buzbee

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A PILE OF KIDS

In a speech meant partly to showcase his personal side, Mitt Romney spoke wistfully of his days as a dad with five young sons — all grown now:

"Those weren't the easiest of days - too many long hours and weekends working, five young sons who seemed to have this need to re-enact a different world war every night.

"But if you ask Ann and I what we'd give, to break up just one more fight between the boys, or wake up in the morning and discover a pile of kids asleep in our room. Well, every mom and dad knows the answer to that."

— Thomas Beaumont — Twitter http://twitter.com/TomBeaumont

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CONVENTION HALL PROTEST

Beside Mitt Romney's stage, two protesters held up pink signs and began chanting "People over profits." Convention officials rushed to them and dragged them from their seats. They resisted while the audience chanted "U-S-A" repeatedly to drown them out. Romney, who loses network coverage at 11 p.m., returned to his speech even as the scuffle happened behind him, over his right shoulder.

— Philip Elliott and Steve Peoples — Twitter http://twitter.com/Philip_Elliott and http://twitter.com/sppeoples

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'YOU NEED AN AMERICAN'

Mitt Romney says in America, all things are possible, and he holds up the first moon landing as proof.

"The soles of Neil Armstrong's boots on the moon made permanent impressions on our souls," Romney said in a rousing speech, heavy on outspoken patriotism, as he accepted the GOP presidential nomination.

He said Americans "went to bed that night knowing we lived in the greatest country in the history of the world."

When the world needs a tough job done, Romney said, "you need an American."

— Andrew Miga — Twitter https://twitter.com/ap_andrew_miga

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QUICKQUOTE: ROMNEY

"Today four years from the excitement of that last election, for the first time the majority of Americans now doubt that our children will have a better future." — Mitt Romney accepting the Republican presidential nomination and describing a national slide under Barack Obama's leadership.

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DIRTY HARRY

In a bizarre turn for a political convention, Clint Eastwood carried out an imaginary conversation with Barack Obama, represented by an empty stool onstage.

The Dirty Harry actor's performance ranged from biting to rambling, with lots of jokes and a salty touch.

"I've got Mr. Obama sitting here and I was going to ask him a couple of questions," Eastwood told the delegates, gesturing to the stool, before pretending to question Obama about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whether he should have tried to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects.

At one point he "listened" to the imaginary Obama lash out at Romney — leaving the president's side of the conversation to the audience's imagination.

"He can't do that to himself. You're absolutely crazy!" Eastwood reacted. "You're getting as bad as Biden."

Stern-faced Romney aides winced at times as Eastwood's remarks stretched on. On a night where virtually every moment was scripted, Eastwood was among the only speakers not reading from a teleprompter as he spoke. It was blank.

— Steve Peoples — Twitter http://twitter.com/sppeoples

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'MAKE MY DAY'

The crowd roared at its first glimpse of actor/director Clint Eastwood, the night's surprise guest. "Save some for Mitt," he told them.

In free-wheeling, joke-filled remarks, Eastwood remembered the enthusiasm around President Barack Obama's nomination four years ago.

"Everybody's crying. Oprah was crying. I was even crying," he joked.

Then he quickly pivoted to the serious: "I haven't cried that hard since I found out there's 23 million unemployed people in this country. That is something to cry for. That is a disgrace, a national disgrace."

"This administration hasn't done enough to cure that," Eastwood said, and it's "time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem."

Eastwood got an adoring standing ovation by telling the delegates, "When somebody does not do the job, we've got to let him go."

At their insistence, he ended with his Dirty Harry catchphrase, joined by the crowd: "Go ahead, make my day."

— Connie Cass —Twitter http://twitter.com/ConnieCass

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AN UNUSUAL SCENE

It was one of the most unusual things seen at a political convention in many years: An aging movie legend, an icon of manliness and grit worldwide, doing a bizarre turn as a slightly dotty older uncle, talking to a naughty imaginary friend in a chair and making a series of rambling, sometimes risqué remarks — all at the expense of the nation's sitting president.

Clint Eastwood took the stage to great expectations Thursday night, his appearance whispered at all week as rumors swirled about the identity of a special mystery guest. But in a voice that sometimes was difficult to hear, the screen legend quickly did more to confuse the audience gathered at the Republican National Convention than anything else.

At first, Eastwood seemed to suck most of the excitement out of the convention center, leaving the crowd a bit nonplussed, a bit twittering in awkward embarrassment. By the end, the crowd was applauding his jokes, though hardly raucously. But Romney aides had serious faces as they watched the lengthy, unscripted moment, clearly a bit taken aback.

— Sally Buzbee

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THE CHANT: 'U-S-A!'

Political conventions are one thing. But the Olympics — well, that's something that can really get a crowd's blood stirring.

As a lineup of former Olympic medalists took to the stage at the Republican National Convention, the crowd of delegates burst into a spontaneous, fist-pumping chant of "USA! USA!"

Was it Tampa ... or was it London again?

— Sally Buzbee

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ON THE ISSUES

Mitt Romney's focus on jobs and the deficit in his acceptance speech plays to his strengths on the issues, while Thursday's convention agenda seeks to shore up his weak points. The latest Associated Press-GfK poll finds him most competitive with Obama on fiscal matters. Among registered voters, he leads the president by 10 points as more trusted to handle the federal budget deficit, and holds narrow 4-point edges on creating jobs and handling the economy.

But Romney trails Obama by 15 points on handling social issues, and by 6 points on handling Medicare, a central focus of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's congressional career.

The focus among Thursday night's convention speakers on Romney's personal and professional life could help to boost his personal image. Registered voters split evenly in their impressions of the former governor — 46 percent have a favorable impression, 46 percent an unfavorable one. That lags behind Obama's 52 percent favorable to 46 percent unfavorable mark on this question.

Romney also trails the president on the question of which candidate is the stronger leader (50 percent Obama to 41 percent Romney) and is seen as less apt to understand average people's problems (51 percent say Obama better understands compared with 36 percent Romney).

— Jennifer Agiesta — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennagiesta

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A SOMBER HUSH

The floor of a national political convention can be a chaotic place. Many delegates do listen to every speech as the evening goes on. But other delegates mill around, chatting with friends, thronging the aisles, dashing out for food — and above all else, angling for photos with well-known faces. It's often noisy and frequently raucous.

But every once in a while the convention floor stills for a bit. That happened Thursday night when Ted and Pat Oparowski, a Mormon couple, took the stage to describe a painful period in their life — when their teenage son, David, was diagnosed in 1979 with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Ted Oparowski, who described himself as someone of modest means, told the crowd how Mitt Romney had struck up a friendship with their son, through his work in the church, visiting the 14-year-old during the months he struggled with cancer before dying.

As the couple spoke in slow, sometimes halting voices, delegates in the aisles turned and listened. Voices dropped. The stillness lasted until the couple left the stage.

— Sally Buzbee

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GINGRICH X 2

Newt Gingrich, known for doing things his way, capped his losing presidential bid with a unique GOP convention appearance alongside his wife, Callista.

Taking turns speaking, sort of like Oscar presenters, the pair praised Mitt Romney by comparing him to President Ronald Reagan.

Barack Obama is no Reagan, they made clear. He's more like Jimmy Carter, the Gingriches asserted.

"It's striking how President Carter and President Obama both took our nation down a path that in four years weakened America's confidence in itself and our hope for a better future," Newt said.

Left behind were any hard feelings from the heated primary campaign in which he called Romney a liar at one point and in a debate urged him to drop "the pious baloney."

— Connie Cass —Twitter http://twitter.com/ConnieCass

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HISPANIC OUTREACH

Republicans continued their strong outreach to Hispanic voters during Thursday night's convention.

All week they have been highlighting Hispanic elected officials from around the country, but on Thursday the effort kicked into even a higher gear. In a short video, elected officials from New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida talked about how their party's values are the values of many Hispanics — from strong family ties to strong support for small business.

On the heels of the video, Romney's son Craig Romney spoke in Spanish to the crowd, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — a popular politician who also spoke to the crowd in Spanish.

Scheduled to be up later in the evening: Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — perhaps the country's most up-and-coming Hispanic official.

— Sally Buzbee

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FULL-THROATED DEFENSE

The last Republican president, George W. Bush, had been almost invisible at this convention — until Thursday night. Almost no previous speaker had mentioned the president who immediately preceded Barack Obama. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan even took an oblique swipe at Bush, noting in his speech Wednesday night that the country's budget and debt problems had been caused not just by Obama, but by administrations before his.

That changed when the former president's brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, made an impromptu — and full throated — defense of his brother at the start of his speech to the delegates. Jeb Bush's speech was on education. But before he leapt in, he got the crowd roaring by telling the crowd of delegates "I love my brother." In a very troubled time for America, Jeb Bush said, "He kept us safe."

George W. Bush was just a few months into his presidency when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, killing thousands of Americans. In the aftermath of those Sept. 11 attacks, then-President Bush ordered American troops first into Afghanistan to attack al-Qaida and then later into Iraq to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein.

— Sally Buzbee