TAMPA--This is the most important moment in Mitt Romney's political career. He will give a prime-time speech Thursday night accepting the Republican presidential nomination, addressing a nation that is still trying to figure out who he is and what he stands for. Here are four things that Romney wants America to know about him.
First, he wants America to view him as a "Mr. Fix It" who welcomes challenges and has achieved many successes over the years in both the public and private sectors. He and his aides point to his rescue of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, his record as a businessman including his time as co-founder of Bain Capital, a private equity firm, and his four years as governor of Massachusetts. "He would bring real-world business practices to government," says a Republican strategist and former adviser to President Ronald Reagan. "He would make government run much better, break gridlock, and fix the economy." Romney plans to make these points in his speech; they also will be emphasized in a special film to be shown during the convention, and will be reinforced in his campaign advertising. His critics say this "Mr. Fix It" claim is bogus and that Romney has never done much to create jobs or serve as an advocate for the middle class. Romney's claim to be an economic repairman will be a prime debating point for the rest of the campaign.
Second, he wants America to view him as a man who understands the problems of everyday people despite his vast wealth and background of privilege. This has been a theme of various convention speakers and of Romney and wife Ann in media interviews leading up to the GOP convention. The speakers portray him as a good-natured fellow who doesn't take himself too seriously, loves his family, isn't pretentious or flamboyant about material things, and sometimes irons his own shirts. Democrats say Romney has lived an isolated life and is out of touch with everyday concerns.
Third, he has a plan to cure the ailing economy, worked out in conjunction with his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. The plan includes massive cuts in federal spending, including programs ranging from education to agriculture, huge tax cuts, and reduced federal regulation designed to make it easier for businesses to grow. Ryan told the convention in his acceptance speech Wednesday night that the Romney-Ryan plan aims to create 12 million new jobs in four years. But in an interview Thursday morning, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said Romney's policies are "extreme" and would hurt everyday people because he "made a deal with the devil" and adopted the agenda of his party's most conservative factions during the GOP primaries.
Fourth, he wants to ease any lingering concerns about his character and his Mormon religion, which some evangelical Christians consider a sect that is not part of Christianity. Romney and his surrogates will try to demystify the issue by arguing that Romney's faith is based on mainstream values such as a belief in God and a commitment to family and doing good deeds. This theme was described by Paul Ryan, a Catholic, Wednesday night when he told the convention, "Mitt and I also go to different churches. But in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example. And I've been watching that example." He called Romney "prayerful and faithful and honorable. Not only a defender of marriage, he offers an example of marriage at its best. Not only a fine businessman, he's a fine man, worthy of leading this optimistic and good-hearted country." More broadly, Romney and his advisers will portray him as a man who doesn't seek public attention for his good works but has a history of helping employees, strangers, friends and family members in their time of need, in addition to donating generously to his church and organized charities.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," on usnews.com and is the author of "The Presidency" column in the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.