TAMPA - There's something in the air in Tampa, and it's not rain.
You can feel it in the hotel elevators and while on line for coffee at Starbuck's.
At first I confused it with good manners -- I'm not staying with the New York delegation but with effusively nice Midwesterners instead. But that's not it either.
What I'm feeling in Tampa is unmistakable optimism. It is as palpable here as I'm told the doom was in St. Paul in September 2008.
I'm at the Republican National Convention -- if it ever gets going -- and I'm beginning to think, with increasing confidence, that Mitt Romney may very well be our next president. If we Republicans don't screw it up.
There's no cockiness among the party stalwarts. Just hushed excitement that things are trending Romney's way. Even the cynics -- and they exist -- are holding their breath. The bluish color in their lips at breakfast gives them away.
One three-word phrase I keep hearing over and over, and this is spoken with genuine incredulity, is "He's got nothing" -- with the "he" being President Barack Obama. Therein lies the stinging summation of where the Obama campaign is right now. Obama seems to have nothing -- zippo -- to run on, only anger at those pernicious 1 percenters, half of whom probably voted for the president in the first place.
It's an extraordinary thing when one considers the promise with which Obama barreled into the White House four years ago. Back then, his messaging crackled with hope and clarity. Today we are seeing a man who appears scornful and washed out. Indeed, there is no message and zero vision from Obama in 2012.
You have to have something to beat nothing, though, and Republicans here finally feel they do. Romney's business acumen coupled with Rep. Paul Ryan's political backbone is as promising to Republicans as anything we have seen since Ronald Reagan. As in 1980, we see a clear and necessary path for the country to follow -- and the choice of Ryan as a running mate gives Republicans the confidence to believe Romney is going to put us on it. That path involves simplifying the tax code to create jobs, addressing the structural deficits caused by unsustainable entitlement promises, and saving those programs for another generation of Americans.
You can disagree with Romney's or Ryan's prescriptions, but where is Obama's alternative? Once again, he's got nothing. He ignored his own bipartisan commission's recommendations for saving the country from calamitous debt.
One thing Team Obama has done well is spend money. To date, the president's re-election team has spent more than $500 million painting Romney as a heartless plutocrat. Yet still, after all that, the race is statistically tied at around 47 percent, according to most polls. If Obama had a positive record to run on and a clear vision for his next term, he would be comfortably over 50 percent right now.
The historic spending on attack ads, and Romney's essential standoffishness, have given the former Massachusetts governor high personal negatives, although his favorability rating among voters is rising. CNN released a poll this week showing 50 percent of Americans viewing Romney favorably, and 46 percent viewing him unfavorably. But Obama's attacks on Romney have put him right up there with the challenger. Just over half of Americans -- 52 percent -- have a favorable opinion of the president, while 47 percent now have an unfavorable view of him.
Romney's lack of charisma in front of audiences has been the persistent criticism of his candidacy. And for the first time -- and this is wildly popular here in Tampa -- Romney today publicly addressed that personal stiffness head on. "I am what I am," he told reporters, Popeye-like, as one Tampa scribe put it. In other words, like me or don't like me; I am a serious man with serious plans to move this country forward.
This is the new Romney attitude giving Republicans so much hope. How very refreshing it is.
How very presidential.
Bill O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant struggling to hold onto his own name. He is no relation to Bill O'Reilly the Fox News commentator.