It's the season of pool parties and backyard barbecues, and for many voters, the political campaign is about as big a concern as their plans for New Year's Eve. The political conventions still seem a long way off: The Democratic National Convention in Charlotte starts on Labor Day, which for many families will be the first week of school.
But this election year, the Republicans will go first. In 2008, the GOP convention began on Labor Day and although Hurricane Gustav delayed some of the festivities, more people watched John McCain's acceptance address in St. Paul, Minn. than Barack Obama's earlier one in Denver. This year poses a challenge for convention organizers: how to get voters to pay attention to the Republican National Convention, set to take place in Tampa in late August—the last week of summer before Labor Day weekend.
Here are five suggestions for how to get voters to tune in during the waning hours of their summer vacations—especially if Mitt Romney does what he says he's going to do and names a running mate before the convention. While that may increase excitement over the summer, it removes any shred of suspense at the convention. What to do?
First, draft off the Olympics. Romney went to the summer games in London, which end two weeks before the convention. His attendance reminds Americans of his turnaround of the Salt Lake City Olympics and makes a great story, so why not continue the theme? Inviting as many U.S. Olympic athletes as possible to the Republican convention would be a great image of earned success, individual achievement, and the American Dream, all of which rebut nicely the president's recent statements about government responsibility for individual success. (Case in point: They may run on government roads, but medal-winning marathoners don't succeed because of the government.)
Republicans should also consider a prime-time video salute to the American Paralympic team that will be competing in London; these games start during the convention, on Wednesday, August 29. Many of the athletes are veterans, and anyone who's been to a sporting event in the last 10 years knows how energized the crowd gets when it's time to thank the veterans in the stands. And while there will always be a few movie stars at the convention—Chuck Norris and Tom Selleck always seem to turn up at Republican events—I'd leave it to the Democrats to put Hollywood types in the spotlight. Let them have Rob Lowe and Kim Kardashian; having hard-working veterans and world-class athletes who also happen to be Republicans appear in Tampa is better for the GOP brand.
Second, put Ann Romney front and center. In 2008, nearly 2 million more women than men tuned in to watch Sarah Palin's prime-time speech, for an overall audience of over 37 million viewers, according to Nielsen. In the three nights of the GOP convention surveyed, more women (an average of 19 million) than men (18 million) watched, and the GOP audience grew a whopping 40 percent over the 2004 convention. If the polls remain as close as they are now, expect just as many, if not more, viewers from 2008 levels. And if the large number of women watching are concerned about "kitchen table" economics, Ann Romney's the one to convince them that her man's the best choice.
Third, make a strong case to middle-class voters. In 2008, more Americans watched Obama's and McCain's convention addresses than watched the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Half a million more watched McCain than Obama. If those numbers hold this time, Republicans will have a great platform for making their case for building up the middle class through reforming taxes, growing small businesses, and reining in the size and scope of government. The Democratic convention will be all about tearing down the rich, rather than supporting families and small businesses, so why not draw the contrast first? Every speaker in Tampa should make the case for Republican policies that allow middle-class families to achieve the American Dream again, and warn viewers about the dangers of Obama dividing Americans against one another.
Fourth, keep the convention colorful. Meaning, don't give the networks too many shots of older white men giving speeches to older white delegates wearing wacky hats. Craig Romney, the candidate's son who lived in South America, should address the crowd in Spanish with subtitles. Condoleezza Rice should highlight Mitt Romney's foreign policies. Mia Love, the African-American Mormon mayor from Utah who is running for Congress, could introduce Sen. Marco Rubio. Here's one that would be a big hit: Persuade Colin Powell to speak. Powell, you may recall, endorsed candidate Obama in 2008 but has stayed mum about whom he'll support this time. All he'd have to say to African-American voters is one sentence: "It's okay to make a change."
Finally, don't let protesters become the story. It's so predictable: Reporters love to write about protesters at Republican conventions. This time, the Occupy Wall Street crowd has already announced that it will be protesting in Tampa. There are sure to be other protests as well, and the Tampa police could take a page from the St. Paul police, who led protesters on a two-hour, 2½-mile march away from the 2008 Republican convention. Not much press coverage of that.
Holding this year's Republican convention before Labor Day isn't ideal, but with a little creativity it may be possible to keep 2008's record-breaking audiences. And one last suggestion: Please, no more wacky hats. Save them for New Year's Eve.
- Read Louis René Beres: The 2012 Elections Won't Fix What Ails America
- Read Clark S. Judge: Americans Are Not Stupid ... But the Obama Administration Is
- Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.