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Thursday, August 30, 2012

A To-Do List for Romney\'s Speech


TAMPA, Fla. - The list of things Mitt Romney has to do in his address to the Republican National Convention on Thursday night is a long one.

He must go on the offensive against a well-liked sitting president; offer a subtle defense of his own background and record; unveil a personal biography that voters can relate to; reach out to women, minorities and independents; and fire up his party's conservative activists.

The challenge for Mr. Romney and his speechwriters is to craft remarks that hang together and do not appear to be the poll-tested handiwork of a campaign committee.

Mr. Rommey has not always demonstrated the ability to use soaring language. His speeches on the campaign trail have tended to be workaday: he delivers his message in a disciplined but not passionate way.

But there is no stage like the one he will step onto tonight. Candidates in the past - including his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan - have accepted the challenge and found within themselves the kind of speech that they have never before delivered.

“I think you'll enjoy the speech,” Eric Fehrnstrom, a top aide to Mr. Romney, said Thursday afternoon. “He's very happy with it, and one thing we know about Mitt Romney is that he always rises to the occasion.”

Here's a more detailed look at the tasks that Mr. Romney must accomplish:

1. GO ON THE OFFENSIVE. Mr. Romney will never again have the same opportunity to crystalize his critique of President Obama in front of such a large audience.

Viewers should expect to hear the sharp-edged attacks about Mr. Obama's economic policies that Mr. Romney has honed for more than a year during hundreds of campaign appearances. If the recent past is a guide, he will continue to criticize Mr. Obama for his “build it” comments and accuse Democrats of taking billions from Medicare.

But he will also attack the administration 's handling of foreign policy. And he is likely to seek to undermine the president's character, largely by focusing on what he calls an unfair and intensely negative campaign waged by Mr. Obama and his aides.

2. PLAY DEFENSE. This part is tricky. Mr. Romney cannot afford to be seen as overly defensive, or to fall into a trap by reacting to Mr. Obama's campaign playbook. And yet he must find subtle ways to push back against Mr. Obama's attacks.

The list of those attacks is long: Bain Capital, tax returns, the offshore bank accounts; his Massachusetts record. Mr. Romney must find a way to set aside Mr. Obama's critique without drawing new attention to it.

Mr. Ryan found simple ways to do that on Wednesday night, and that could be a model for Mr. Romney. In an effort to address Mr. Romney's wealth and his time at Bain Capital, Mr. Ryan said simply: “By the way, being successful in business â€" that's a good thing,” to which the audience responded with enth usiastic applause.

Mr. Romney will seek a similar way to highlight his business record. A new Web site unveiled by the campaign on Thursday - www.sterlingbusinesscareer.com - offers clues to how he might do that.

3. BIOGRAPHY. Mr. Romney does not have an up-from-the-bootstraps story to tell, though he sometimes leans on the stories of his father, a self-made businessman who became the governor of Michigan, and of his wife's grandfather, a coal miner. But he needs to find a way to connect with voters on a personal level.

His likely path: through his wife, Ann, and their children. His wife's struggles with multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, he has said, were moments that tested him. And the images of Mr. Romney and his five sons have frequently been part of the campaign's message.

Mr. Romney's faith has not been front and center. But he recently has been more open in discussing his faith, and he may conclude that he needs to offer voters more of a w indow into his beliefs.

4. WOMEN AND MINORITIES. Much of the Republican convention has been dedicated to reaching out to crucial voter groups who may hold the key to the election: women, minorities and independents. Mr. Romney's speech will be aimed, in part, at them.

The effort to win over those voters will no doubt involve an attempt by Mr. Romney to offer softer language on issues of importance to them. For Hispanics, Mr. Romney may talk about immigration reform; for women, he will stress kitchen-table economic issues like college tuition.

5. THE BASE VOTERS. But even as he moderates his language in some part of the speech, look for Mr. Romney to offer red meat to the thousands of activists gathered in the convention hall and watching on television.

For them, the speech is likely to serve up some biting comments about Mr. Obama; attacks about “Obamacare” are always crowd-pleasers for Mr. Romney. And there will be mentions of abortion, protectin g marriage and the fight by churches to avoid paying for contraception for their employees.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.