With 10 weeks to go until the presidential election, the next two weeks are critical for both parties as they each head south to officially nominate their picks for the national ballot.
In many ways, the party conventions are self-congratulatory lovefests that are as much about honoring favored party operatives as christening a presidential candidate. Carefully scripted for primetime, the conventions get a standard viewership of wonks, political loyalists, and the segment both Republicans and Democrats really care about — the undecided voter, willing to be swayed by just the right message at the right time.
Next week’s Republican National Convention and the following week’s Democratic National Convention will take on added dimensions this year with the explosion of social media — the primary debates, even when torturous to sit through, were made all the more fun by following live reaction on Twitter at the same time. Something may happen at one of the conventions that ignites on Twitter before it even has the chance to make it on the news. It’s a different game this year where it’s that much harder for political parties to control the messaging and the news cycle.
But what will make each convention a success for the respective parties? Consider some of their goals and how they might get there.
Goal: Akin who?
If Reince Priebus’ dreams came true, the Missouri congressman would drop out of the Senate race this weekend and humbly allow a hand-picked RNC candidate, wad of NRSC cash in hand, to battle Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). But the RNC will be winning enough just by keeping the “legitimate rape” congressman from being the topic du jour during Mitt Romney’s week. Variable: Akin’s top supporter, Mike Huckabee, has a speaking role Monday night; don’t expect him to mention the congressman by name but expect some references to social conservatism and perhaps advocacy for not throwing socons under the bus. (Preview: CNN reports that in a conference call with Baptist pastors and Christian talk show hosts to rally support for Akin tonight, Huckabee compared the National Republican Senatorial Committee to “union goons” who “kneecap” their enemies.)
Goal: No birthers here
Romney said he didn’t mean any swipe at President Obama by telling a Michigan crowd today that “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.” Democrats were in a tizzy and will likely use the Sunday news shows, right before the RNC opens, to try to push Romney birther sympathy and campaign ties with Donald Trump in tandem with tying the ticket to Akin’s social agenda. What the GOP doesn’t want to see is the old controversies of Obama’s first term being brought up in any way that overshadows what his administration has done with the economy over the past four years.
Goal: Economy, economy, economy
This is businessman Romney’s dream messaging, and what he believes is his ticket to the White House. What the convention needs to do is keep it on a down-to-earth level — how it’s affecting people in their daily lives, in their future savings and healthcare, etc. — and out of the wonk stratosphere. It will be interesting to see how a slate of governors will drive home the message about small businesses building their dreams, but the “We Built It” night is critical to the messaging war.
Goal: Keep all party factions happy
It’s no secret that Romney was not the first, or even second, choice of many Republicans out there. That’s why he went out on a limb a bit with the Paul Ryan pick, and it’s no secret that the Ryan speech will likely get wilder heartfelt cheers from the Republican base. The conventioneers want to keep everyone under the Big Tent just happy enough to stay in that tent for Election Day.
Goal: Just a cup of Tea
Consider this the national party’s way of saying, “We gave you Paul Ryan, what more do you want?” The RNC will not be like those grass-roots anti-ObamaCare rallies. The national party wants the fervor sans rancor, and is just offering a few Tea Party aligned/endorsed speakers on the first night of the convention. If Tea Partiers feel like they’re being taken for granted, they are. It’s the moderates and independents that the party apparatus wants to woo to the ballot box in this election.
Goal: Lure moderates, Latinos, women…
Hence the carefully scripted lineup of convention speakers. Hence speaking roles for both the governor and first lady of Puerto Rico. Hence Marco Rubio as the opening act for Romney. Here the RNC needs to strike the balance of displaying party diversity for those who have bought into the rich-white-guy stereotype, while not crossing into blatant, obvious pander.