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.
Goal: Akin mania
Claire McCaskill will be the belle of the ball in Charlotte. And she’ll have plenty of ladies-in-waiting who have flooded the airwaves this week to lead the charge against Akin’s comments. They’ll be tying the congressman to the GOP ticket at every opportunity, as well as the GOP platform and any other item or person Akin has ever touched in an effort to paint the GOP as radical. The backfire potential? Focusing more on the other party and its agenda rather than promoting the Democrats’ agenda stokes what has turned off a lot of moderates and independents in this race: the “lesser of two evils” race to the bottom.
Goal: War on women
Sandra Fluke is speaking — need we say more? The Democrats are using the war on women meme revitalized by the Akin drama. But if they’re smart, they won’t make it all about abortion. The lesser-recognized planks of the war on women platform including the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Violence Against Women Act would be safer bets for greater mileage for the party, and talking about broader women’s rights rather than just reproductive ones.
Goal: Budget scares
This won’t focus on the fact that Senate Democrats last offered a budget eons ago. This is where Dems try to capitalize on the vulnerability of Romney’s running mate. They come into this convention with a tactical leg up as they’ve been flogging Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget blueprint since its inception. The Ryan budget is wonkish, but to win on this strategy Democrats will attempt to devote plenty of verbiage to good old-fashioned non-wonkish scare tactics to strike doubt in the hearts of undecideds. Think the verbal equivalence of Ryan pushing wheelchair-bound granny off the cliff.
Goal: Economic transference
The new unemployment numbers will be out the morning after Obama gives his acceptance speech. The president’s oration skills have slipped since his grand 2008 Denver moment, but he’ll have to try to talk himself out of this one in advance. His campaign speeches have been full of talking about trying to pull the country out of the mess he inherited, a bevy of Bush-blaming. But to get a second chance with independents who supported him in 2008 and others who have tiptoed out of his column, Obama will have roll out the carpet for the latest labor statistics (of which there are only three more reports until Election Day) with a buck-stops-with-me message.
Goal: Populism sans hope and change
This is also known as: Romney is a rich guy with a car elevator who doesn’t care about the very poor and cannot simply begin to understand real people like you. Despite his gaffe-factory headlines, Joe Biden has been canvassing the campaign trail with this real-guy message (and does it much better than Obama) in small-town diners and the like; there are some members of Congress who do the populist message well, too. Obama leaned on this in 2008, but then fell short on the hope and change promises. Can they stoke populist sentiment leaning on a class-warfare message? They’ll try.
Goal: Reigniting the 2008 flame
And herein lies a huge reason why they’re stoking the Akin controversy for all it’s worth — it’s easier to get precinct-walkers and voters when you can offer a bogeyman in the flesh. Without hope and change, and with the “give me more time to change” mantra, Democrats need something else in the arsenal to get the original Obama voters back and excited. And most of this falls squarely on Obama’s shoulders in what may be the most critical speech of his career.
Goal: Seizing the advantage of being the second convention
This means rewriting the script at the last minute to integrate every foible or gaffe that emerged from the Tampa party. It means digesting every poll post-RNC and adjusting the message accordingly. The Democrats get to be proactive and reactive in the second half.