(CNN) -- The second night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa featured speeches by Mitt Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, and by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served former President George W. Bush. CNN contributors and analysts offered these assessments of the evening:
Maria Cardona: Ryan distorts the truth; Rice counts on short memories
Paul Ryan knocked it out of the park from a rhetorical standpoint and brought down the house as expected. Great line about what was on his iPod versus what was on Mitt Romney's. Great play for the youth vote!
But it was disappointing to see him continue the tremendous distortion about President Barack Obama cutting Medicare, when his own plan calls for the same cuts that will actually reduce benefits for seniors. We heard continued criticisms but no real solutions. He said he would keep our spending to 20% of GDP but didn't outline what programs he would cut to get us there. Perhaps we already know why.
We have his blueprint in the Ryan Budget, which does nothing for middle-class families except make them bear the brunt of the tax cuts he would give wealthy Americans.
Ryan talked about moral creed, but his budget slashes programs aimed at protecting those that he said we have an obligation to protect. If that is the Romney/Ryan American dream, then voters -- young, old, middle class, African-American, Latinos and women -- would do well to say thanks, but we'll keep our hope and change even if it takes four more years to get there.
Three things struck me about Condoleezza Rice's speech. First she mentions the 9/11 terror attack, which is a big risk reminding voters it was actually Obama who ordered the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. She also mentioned the nation's debt, perhaps hoping voters would not remember it was actually her boss' tax cuts, two wars and a Medicare prescription drug plan, all unpaid for, that added to that debt and plunged the country into deep deficits.
Then she mentioned immigration in the context of having to find a way to be more compassionate. This may have been an effort to erase for Latino voters the strident, offensive language on immigration and immigrants that Romney (his "self-deportation" fix, for one thing) and the GOP have adopted in recent years. It certainly won't be enough.
Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.
Erick Erickson: Ryan a 'hard guy to paint as spooky'
Here's a fact about political campaigns: In close elections, parties often take the gamble that elections are base elections, i.e., they win by turning out their base, which they conclude is larger than the other guy's.
Right now, the Democrats have concluded that their base is larger than the Republicans, and they want a base election. The way to get the base out -- and not the independents, who most, if not all, polls show are going for the GOP -- is to go negative.
The Democrats have every incentive to make this election as nasty as possible. The Obama campaign website claims that Mitt Romney wants to send women back to the 1950s. A liberal group runs commercials showing a Paul Ryan lookalike shoving a grandmother in a wheelchair off a cliff.
Ryan's job was to get independents comfortable with Romney-Ryan. His goal was to tell independents that it was OK for them to vote for Barack Obama in a historic election and it is OK to like him now but want a new man in the White House.
He excelled. His rhetoric was not as high as Condoleezza Rice's speech, but he hit the high notes, related well and made it about the lessons he learned from his mom (carefully pointing out she was on Medicare as he expected to be).
Ryan is a hard guy to paint as spooky. He is a good-looking, charming guy with a good-looking, charming family. He's got youth but relates to older people. The Obama campaign has failed, over several weeks, to define him and will now regret that choice.
Ryan hit all the right notes and defined himself as a compassionate guy with a plan to fix problems. The one problem? His existence on the campaign trail continues to make him more consequential than the actual presidential nominee. Right now though, the GOP doesn't care.
Erick Erickson is the editor of the conservative blog RedState.com and a CNN political contributor.
Hilary Rosen: Ryan speech short on ideas and misleading on Obama
Rep. Paul Ryan was supposed to be the smart addition to the ticket -- the one full of great ideas and policy truths. Unfortunately, his speech to the Republican convention Wednesday night was short on policy ideas and anything but truthful.
-- He told a story he knows to be untrue about a GM plant closing after the president had promised to keep it open, yet the plant actually closed when George W. Bush was president.
-- He criticized the president for rejecting the conclusions of his budget commission, yet didn't say that Ryan himself was on the commission and voted against the recommendations.
-- He complained about the deficit but neglected to mention his multiple votes over the years in Congress for things such as unlimited and off-budget war appropriations and tax cuts for the wealthy that have produced record deficits.
-- He attacked Obama for cutting $700 billion out of Medicare (though the Obama plan puts some of the savings from cutting fraud back into actual health care), yet he neglected to admit that his own plan does the same thing.
Ryan offered no policy prescriptions for a new economy.
He obfuscated his own record and deliberately misled the country about Obama's record. Tonight was his introduction to America -- a chance to showcase how Mitt Romney was creating a new guide to the future. This is the next generation Republican leader? Judging from the reaction, I don't think the country was impressed.
Hilary Rosen, a CNN contributor, is a Democratic political strategist and former chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America.
David Gergen: Have Republicans found a young Reagan?
The delegates here in Tampa loved Ann Romney Tuesday night and loved Condi Rice Wednesday night. But Paul Ryan delivered the speech they have been longing for, and they exploded in enthusiasm. Conservatives will surely wonder whether they have found a young Reagan.
On the biggest stage of his life, Ryan spoke with the assurance, clarity and humor of a man of far more experience. He understood that the best way to make an effective indictment of President Barack Obama was to tell a story, and he did that well. As a CNN focus group said after, he seemed to do it as well without scaring people as an extremist.
Democrats will rightly take him on next week as they have sharply different views of how to create a fair and growing society. The press will rightly check his facts. Critics will rightly charge that he didn't spell out the Romney-Ryan economic plan. But Ryan accomplished something important: he pushed the debate onto a higher plane where we might get a more serious conversation about the tough, tough choices ahead.
David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Follow him on Twitter.
Reihan Salam: Rice and Martinez make the strongest impression
It is striking that the standouts of the Republican National Convention so far -- Condoleezza Rice, the African-American Stanford political scientist who served as secretary of state during George W. Bush's second term; and Susana Martinez, the first Latina governor of New Mexico -- represent what remains a very white, very Anglo party.
For Republicans looking to the future, this is very good news indeed. Though many GOP stalwarts lamented their weak 2012 presidential field, the last two days have demonstrated that the party has a very deep bench.
While Paul Ryan gave an extremely effective, politically savvy speech, it is Rice and Martinez who made the strongest impression, and who seemed to demonstrate that the Republican party is broad, inclusive, and forward-looking. Though it's hard to tell if this year's RNC will do anything to change hardened public perceptions, its selection of speakers has been almost unbelievably good.
Reihan Salam, a CNN contributor, is a writer for the National Review's "The Agenda" blog; a columnist for Reuters Opinion; a policy advisor for e21, a non-partisan economic research group; and co-author of "Grand New Party: How Conservatives Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream."
William Bennett: Ryan makes a strong case against Obama's record
Last night, Paul Ryan introduced himself to the American people with a profound display of youthfulness, optimism, and authority -- authority that comes from an unquestionable knowledge of the economy and budget but also from having lived life and worked hard.
He delivered the convention's first searing line-by-line indictment of the Obama record in a tough, powerful, yet appealing and sympathetic way. During his time in the House, Ryan relied heavily on statistics, charts, and wonky graphs, of which he had unparalleled expertise. But last night's speech was something more. He made a philosophical case against the President's record with emotional appeal and real life, relatable examples, like the following:
"College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life."
I've known Paul Ryan very well through the years, starting when he worked for me at Empower America. He has had a remarkable tenure in the House. When he was picked by Mitt Romney to be Vice President I thought he would be good, but I didn't know how good. Last night he was great, and chances are he will only get better.
William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.
Ruben Navarrette: Ryan does what Romney can't
Paul Ryan is Joe Biden -- without the gaffes and with a good head on his shoulders.
That was my takeaway as I watched Ryan's powerful speech Wednesday night accepting the Republican nomination for vice president.
In 2008, Barack Obama chose Biden as his running mate because the Harvard Law School graduate who seemed aloof and unable to relate to the concerns of everyday Americans felt he needed a running mate who understood the lunch bucket crowd.
This year, Mitt Romney -- another Harvard Law School graduate who is often accused of not being able to relate to everyday Americans -- chose Ryan for much the same reason.
Romney needed someone who could go before the American people and do something that Romney has -- in two presidential elections -- been unable to do for all his success in business: explain in plain language what's broken and how his party's values and his expertise can fix it and show everyday Americans that he understands their plight and knows how to keep government from making it worse.
That's what the 42-year-old son of Janesville, Wisconsin, needed to do with this, the most important speech of his political career. Well, to borrow a phrase: Mission accomplished.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.