TAMPA, FLA.—The air in this city on the bay is thick, not with the winds of Hurricane Isaac, but with the expectation of victory in the upcoming election.
In one sense the enthusiasm defies belief. The national polls all show the race between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney to be one or two points either way. Yet the delegates who have gathered for the Republican National Convention are near uniform in their belief that Romney is the man who will lead them out of the political wilderness and back into the White House.
That Romney remains alive in the race, said a number of the political experts in attendance, is nothing short of a miracle. Since becoming the presumptive GOP nominee, Obama and his allies have spent nearly $125 million on negative ads and messaging to attack the former Massachusetts governor—not on issues—but personally, on matters of character. It's been a withering barrage, costing as much as some presidential campaigns spent in their entirety not all that long ago.
It hasn't worked. Romney continues to stay close, dogging Obama's steps at every turn. More than one delegate said they expect Romney to start moving up in the polls any day, once he closes the deal with those voters who register continued approval of Obama personally but give him low marks for job performance.
The challenge as they see it, much like it was for Ronald Reagan in 1980, is for Romney to prove that he is not nearly as bad as the Democrats say he is. To be honest, that's a pretty low bar for the Republicans to get over.
For Reagan that moment came in his first and only debate with Jimmy Carter. The people behind Romney are hoping that for their man, that moment might come at the party's nominating convention. They've taken great care to craft a narrative that talks of Romney the man, Romney the leader, Romney the American success story. To paint a picture of a man who represents all that once was good in America and can be good again if everyone starts pulling in the right direction and doing their fair share.
If the voters who still have doubts about Romney, who have not yet determined that Obama must be defeated come November, decide that handing Romney the keys to the presidency is a decision they can make safely, then Obama is toast. Even in a competitive race, however, Romney still holds the advantage.
Enthusiasm for the Republicans is up, continuing to build on the party's successful comeback in the 2010 elections. Enthusiasm for the Democrats and for Obama is down—especially among new voters, younger voters and black voters, the latter being a key part of the president's winning coalition in 2008 not because they voted 9 to 1 for him but because they turned out in such large numbers. They are not doing that again.
In the congressional contests, the GOP by and large won the recruitment battle in a number of key states. Strong performances by Republicans running for the House and Senate, taking over seats in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan will also work in Romney's favor.
Going into the election, looking at it through the prism of a city where enthusiasm for sports is high, the Republicans have better field position, a strong defensive line, and more opportunities to score. They also have a quarterback who, while untested in the big game, looks to be better under pressure than the veteran leading the other squad. The GOP has more opportunities to make the big plays while the other side is forced to alternate between a "prevent defense" and the "Hail Mary." The convention delegates who came to Tampa to cheer are expecting big things from their team. And they don't expect to be disappointed.