Levy: It's all eyes on Mitt Romney for his speech
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In the end, it's all on Mitt.
After all the personal and political testimonials, after all the careful scripting and image-sculpting, tonight Mitt Romney will take the stage to succeed or fail on his own. No smitten spouse or strapping sons (at least not until he's delivered his last word); no other surrogates, such as his running mate Paul Ryan, whose task Wednesday night was to introduce himself as a loyal sidekick to Romney and quell concerns about the impact of his own conservative policies.
"We will not duck the tough issues -- we will lead," Ryan told the crowd. "We will not spend four years blaming others -- we will take responsibility. ... I know that we are ready. Our nominee is sure ready."
Romney's speech will test that promise. The son of a man who himself sought the presidency, this nominee will face a more daunting, even humbling, challenge than his No. 2 did. If Romney is to unseat President Barack Obama, he has to change the way people think and feel about him personally. He has to show people, if he can, that he isn't cold or aloof or out of touch with their lives.
And the stakes will be as high for Romney as they get in politics: Just enough people still don't like or trust him to deny him the world's most powerful job and his party the chance to control the nation's agenda.
Romney has to find a way to execute the complex pirouette of assuaging conservatives yet appealing to moderates and others unsure of who he is and where he stands on matters they care about -- their parents, their children, their family's future.
The Michigan native's task is tricky, perhaps trickier than what any other recent presidential nominee has faced at the climax of a nominating convention. Romney may be the official choice of the entire party, but he is not embraced by any part of it.
Conservatives are suspicious of him, although perhaps a little less so since he chose to run alongside one of their own -- the architect of the Republican House's historically austere budget proposal that even some members of his party rejected. The right wings of the party -- fiscal and social -- opposed him with a vengeance as the Massachusetts Moderate who laid the groundwork for Obamacare when he was governor of the Bay State, and who flipped to the anti-abortion side of the abortion debate. Moderates in the party also distrust him for many of the same reasons -- they don't really know what to expect from him.
In a race as close as this one, Romney will need all elements of the party revved up and ready to go once the balloons fall and delegates and candidates go home to campaign. In other words, he has to find the words to please everybody in the room.
More importantly, Romney has to please the people in the living rooms -- the millions of people, including the independent moderate swing voters, who will be listening to him closely perhaps for the first time. For them, according to polls and people on the street, the concerns are less ideological and programmatic as they are personal. They simply don't like him or believe that he, as a genuine member of the so-called One Percent, doesn't really feel their pain.
Ronald Reagan, then a former governor and actor, used the 1980 GOP convention and other key speeches to reassure moderates and supporters of other candidates that he was not a right-wing wild man, and that he had the gravitas to do the job. He didn't have to convince conservatives of anything -- as George H.W. Bush had to do even after serving Reagan as VP for eight years, prompting him to make the no-tax pledge that likely cost him a second term when he broke it. Bush's more conservative progeny, George W., mostly had to establish his competency, as he was clearly not his father's son by ideology or resume.
The best way for Romney to deal with all these concerns is to take them head-on. Of course, he needs to talk about jobs and the economy -- not just that he will do something about it, but how. These are the biggest specific concerns of most voters, and the reason he has at least an even chance to unseat an incumbent. But it will not be enough. Romney needs to talk about all the things he has accomplished: as a successful businessman, a savior of the Winter Olympics, a productive governor. But that also will not be enough.
Romney needs to tell the audience straight out that he knows they have doubts about him, because some of his positions have changed over time and because he has done better and better while the middle class and poor have done worse and worse.
He needs to acknowledge that he never went through what many families have in recent years -- losing their jobs, their homes, their hope. He has to say, though, that he will try as hard as he can to understand and help.
No single speech has ever won or lost someone the presidency -- too much else goes into winning or losing -- and tonight's won't do that for Romney. But a great one, the right one, will give him a head start as he and Obama head down the homestretch.
Lawrence C. Levy, a former Newsday columnist, is executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. This is from the Albany Times Union.