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Did Mitt Romney gain ground?

August 31, 2012 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN analysts, contributors assess the speeches on the final night of the RNC
  • Julian Zelizer: Romney introduced himself to nation well but failed to spell out vision
  • Maria Cardona: Romney had some good lines, but followed with distortions of record
  • Ana Navarro: Marco Rubio showed himself as a political figure of national proportion

(CNN) -- Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, delivered his acceptance speech on the final night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa. The evening also featured speeches from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who introduced Romney; movie star Clint Eastwood; and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. CNN contributors and analysts offered these assessments of the evening:

Julian Zelizer: Mitt Romney, problem solver

Mitt Romney had to accomplish three goals in his speech Thursday night: He had to introduce himself to the nation, he needed to explain why he is a better alternative than President Obama and he needed to outline his vision for the nation in the next four years.

Through a solid, though not an exceptional, speech, Romney made progress on all fronts. He opened up by sharing more about his religion as well as his family. His speech showed that Romney is more than a ruthless capitalist, offering an alternative narrative of Romney as a problem solver.

Julian Zelizer
Julian Zelizer

Until tonight, all of the speakers, including Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, spoke about the need to make tough choices. The speech, and the biographical film, presented Romney as the person who could take up this challenge.

Romney also took a more aggressive stance toward President Obama by depicting him as a leader who had made big promises but who failed to deliver on what Americans need most, namely creating jobs and healing the divisions in politics.

Comparing Obama to President Carter, he completed the picture that Republicans have painted of the White House during the convention: a depiction of the president as someone who refuses to make tough decisions and who lacks any viable plan for strengthening the country.

The biggest weakness of the speech came with the final challenge, as Romney offered only a vague picture of what he would do in four years that would revitalize the state of the nation. He promised to have a plan, but the substance of the plan remains unclear. In the coming months, this is the big challenge for the Republican candidate if he wants to win the White House.

Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of the new book "Governing America."

Maria Cardona: Good lines, empty slogans. No sale

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

Romney's speech was well delivered with the right intonations and applause lines, and even some teary-eyed moments when talking about his mom and Ann Romney. But that line about how when America needs to accomplish something great, "you need an American"? Dog whistle to the birthers?

Rhetorical crumbs to women, immigrants, Cubans and ultra-right-wing evangelicals is what we heard from Romney on Thursday night. And a regurgitation of the "Best of Obama Criticisms," including how President Obama had almost no business experience when he took office. How many years of business experience does Paul Ryan, the man who would be VP, have?

He also underscored his experience at Bain Capital, which will give Democrats the opportunity to repeat their claims that some of the companies he invested in were loaded up with debt and shuttered, and that workers lost their jobs, pensions and healthcare.

He talked about creating 12 million new jobs but didn't say how. Will those jobs be the ones left behind by the 12 million undocumented immigrants he wants to self-deport?

The five ideas he did talk about were empty slogans for which he offered little real detail. And the fifth one about cutting taxes and regulations for small businesses? He should get the president's record right and understand there have been 18 tax cuts for small businesses and that there have been less regulations on businesses these past three years than in the first term of President George W. Bush's administration.

Some good lines, not a great speech, and I suspect it did not move the needle significantly with women, Latinos or independents or do much to really humanize Mitt Romney with voters We'll see.

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.

David Gergen: Where Romney fell short

David Gergen
David Gergen

The real judgments on the success of the GOP convention will come from voters, not from those of us in the peanut gallery. Nevertheless, with the third and final night in the books, it is worth considering the results of his speech, the climactic arc of the third night, and the convention as a whole.

With regard to the speech, it is possible that Romney's quiet, plain-spoken sketch of his personal journey -- especially its invocations of a Norman Rockwell America -- will humanize him and draw over women who have soured on President Obama but have worried that Romney is a hard-hearted, rich, elitist, corporate raider who has no compassion for those less fortunate. Relentless negative ads against him in recent weeks have left that impression. Probably the greatest success of this GOP convention is that it revealed a different, far more decent Romney who does care about others.

In that sense, his acceptance address may have been a worthy climax to a three-day effort to portray him in a better light. That could help to narrow the gender gap that is holding back his candidacy.

But from my perspective, as one who is deeply worried about the next few years in America, the speech was a disappointment on substantive and rhetorical grounds. Just the night before, Paul Ryan hammered home the idea that the Romney-Ryan ticket was ready to make tough, bold choices that would unleash a dynamic America. Romney simply wasn't going there Thursday night: There were no tough choices, no ringing calls for new policies, no details about how we would get there. Instead, he declared -- without any supporting evidence -- that a Romney presidency would create 12 million jobs in the next four years. Since no president has ever done that, one might have thought that there would be a compelling game plan to get there. Instead, he offered up a brief laundry list of five ideas -- many of them what George W. Bush would offer -- and left it there. Sorry, but that was neither bold nor tough.

Rhetorically, the speech was solid but not compelling. It had heart but lacked soul. Mario Cuomo famously said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose -- this was all prose. Nor was there a clear trumpet -- it is not even clear what the lead paragraph would be in press accounts. If Bill Safire were still alive and editing his anthology of great speeches, he would be much more likely to include Ryan's than Romney's.

Perhaps voters will have a more positive impression than I had and will flock to Romney in droves. If so, hats off to the Romney team for figuring out today's political mood far better than those of us who kibitz on the sidelines. But if they called this one wrong, Thursday night will go down as the biggest missed opportunity of the campaign.

As for the convention as a whole, its biggest success may have been to warm up Mitt Romney. From Ann Romney's moving speech Tuesday night about her husband to the emotionally charged testimonials on Thursday, climaxing in a film and then his own re-telling of his life story, the convention seemingly did well in erasing the impressions created by the barrage of negative advertising he's sustained. What the convention lacked in compelling plans for the future, it made up for in its humanizing portrait of the party's nominee.

But in assessing the choreography of the convention, one cannot ignore the bizarre way that the final night of the convention unfolded. For the hour leading into 10 p.m., convention planners put together an inspiring series of personal testimonials from others about Romney -- that was strong television. When it came to a close, and when the network broadcasts tuned in, the planners could have shown their film and had Romney appear immediately after. That would have been a home run.

Instead, for inexplicable reasons, the planners at the magical stroke of 10 p.m. went from one of the best hours of the convention (the testimonials) to one of the worst half hours of prime time in recent memory.

Having Clint Eastwood on stage was a terrific idea (and I am a big fan), but who on the Romney team takes responsibility for what then happened? It was sad and embarrassing to watch one of America's beloved idols in the minutes that followed. People back home had no idea what was happening.

And then came Marco Rubio, who brought the crowd in the hall to its feet, but whose speech -- more about him than Romney -- really should have been elsewhere in the program.

The net result was that Romney didn't make it onto the stage until 10:33 or so and without a strong lead-in. We don't yet know if a lot of viewers had left by then, but either way it was blown time. The one hour allotted by the networks for the acceptance speech is one of the most precious in all of politics. It is the one opportunity a political party and its presidential candidate have to engage in an uninterrupted conversation with the American people. To orchestrate it so badly and then to follow with an acceptance speech that was good but not great was a bizarre way to end things -- and may have cost the Romney campaign the major breakout moment it needed from this convention.

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.

Erick Erickson: Mitt Romney closed the deal

I've been pretty open that I think the odds are against Mitt Romney in 2012, but last night I think he significantly improved his odds of winning.

Erick Erickson
Erick Erickson

All week long, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have had to do three things: 1. reassure independent voters that it is okay to like Barack Obama more than Mitt Romney; 2. reassure independent voters that it is okay that they voted for Barack Obama in 2008; and 3. reassure independent voters that it is okay to now want to fire Barack Obama for his job performance.

Last night, Romney closed the deal. The Romney campaign is pretty certain that as long as they just get voters comfortable with him, they do not have to like him. Voters got comfortable with Romney. They heard the story of his dad and the roses for his mom. They heard him remind parents of their kids being kids. They heard him offer an alternative vision.

Was it light on details? Yes, but these speeches are always light on details. In 2008, Obama promised hope and change. That was no more substantive than what Romney promised last night. But Romney's promise, to help families, was contrasted in his oration with Obama's promise to see the oceans recede and the earth heal.

Today, Romney's promise seems far more doable and reasonable than Obama's.

Erick Erickson is the editor of the conservative blog RedState.com and a CNN political contributor.

Donna Brazile: GOP's Etch-A-Sketch convention

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

Voters watching Mitt Romney accept the Republican Party's nomination to be president Thursday night were waiting for the beef: any vision, plan or single new idea. But all they got served was overcooked red meat: false bravado, reckless attacks and a rehash of failed policies of the past.

It was an expected ending to the Romney Reinvention Convention, where not even Madison Avenue ad executives could Etch-A-Sketch the impression out of voters' minds that Romney's an empty suit with public and private sector experiences that destroyed things rather than build them.

Given a chance to speak directly to the American people, the entire Republican Party apparatus spent several days tearing down President Obama without offering any substantive reason why Romney should be president.

Chris Christie talked about Chris Christie and the hard truths that Paul Ryan then failed to explain. Instead, Ryan lied. A lot: about his plan to "voucherize" Medicare and his fiscal chicken hawk record that shows he voted for two tax cuts unpaid for, two wars unpaid for and a prescription drug giveaway to the drug companies, unpaid for.

Nary a mention of Afghanistan or veterans. And Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair.

Meanwhile, the president was in Colorado and Iowa, talking with students and explaining how he's helping millions of them pay for college so we have a skilled work force to keep us competitive. He was monitoring the storm Isaac and ensuring that states and local communities had the federal resources they needed to prepare and protect folks and property in its path.

And he'll continue to take his case for re-election directly to the American people in the run up to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, talking about the big issues, like education, fuel economy and clean energy, infrastructure and responsible tax reform and deficit reduction. He'll continue explaining there's a clear contrast in visions for the future for our country and choice in this election.

The last four years have been about making tough choices to help a country and economy recover, and laying the foundation for a path forward to restoring middle-class security.

Republicans failed to make the case for a Romney presidency in Tampa, and now Democrats have their chance to make it for Obama in Charlotte.

There won't be an empty seat or empty suit when they do.

Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

Ana Navarro: Marco Rubio, a star staking out his future

Ana Navarro
Ana Navarro

Political conventions are like the Olympics. They happen every four years and showcase the best political players in the country. Chris Christie was supposed to deliver a gold medal-winning speech, and instead he gave us a big belly flop. Gov. Susana Martinez came in as a virtual unknown and won over the hearts of Republicans.

On Marco Rubio, the expectations were high. He is known as one of the best political orators today. He did not disappoint. Last week, rumor was the Romney campaign wanted to change his speaking slot. Fortunately for Romney and for Rubio, he spoke as originally scheduled and introduced Romney. Romney got as rousing a warm-up act as he could hope for. Rubio got the chance of a lifetime to speak to the nation.

He gave a deeply personal account of his family history. He stood on that stage as the embodiment of the American Dream. I saw people all around me on the convention floor wipe away tears as Rubio talked about the sacrifices his parents made to give him opportunities they never had.

Thursday night, people all over the United States got to see what voters in Florida know well. Rubio is a political figure of national proportions. Thursday night, he firmly laid his stake in the ground for a potential presidential run in four or eight years, depending on the results in November.

Convention speeches can make or break political futures. Rubio's speech goes a long way in increasing his stature and furthering his career.

Ana Navarro, Republican strategist and commentator, served as national Hispanic campaign chairwoman for John McCain in 2008 and national Hispanic co-chairwoman for Jon Huntsman's 2012 campaign. Follow her on Twitter @ananavarro.

Hilary Rosen: Romney shows his warmth but not his policies

What a bizarre last night for the Republican convention. It is hard to imagine a weirder moment than Clint Eastwood's speech and a less complimentary speech introducing a nominee than Sen. Marco Rubio's self-referential oratory. In fact, Mitt Romney saved his own night with his speech.

Hilary Rosen
Hilary Rosen

Romney needed to do two things tonight: convey who he is as a person of empathy and good intent and make a case that he would be a better president than Barack Obama. I think he did the first one decently but failed miserably on the second mission.

He talked about his love and respect for his parents. His admiration for his mother who ran for Senate was charming. He was even sweet talking about being a parent of fighting boys (what parent can't relate to this?). He absolutely conveyed a more human side to his usual "Ken Doll" demeanor.

He had more trouble with his second mission. When he tried to discuss what he could do to help the country, the speech went south. He made awkward jokes about once contemplating asking his church to invest with Bain Capital. He took credit for the company's success, not mentioning that it was subsidized by the government, and he failed to acknowledge that he killed thousands of jobs when he was at Bain and didn't actually create many jobs the last time he was in public office.

From a policy perspective, we got, as my colleague James Carville said, George W. Bush's economic policies, Dick Cheney's foreign policies and Rick Santorum's social policies. In short, nothing new and a host of re-treaded policies that have failed us in the past.

Romney didn't make a sell Thursday night. But he stopped some bleeding about his image. I imagine that Romney supporters will focus on the personal stories of Romney's speech, and if I were them, that is all I would talk about as well.

One other clear element missing from the stage Thursday night? Any public declarations of empathy and support for our citizens suffering through a storm on the Gulf Coast and relief that more people were not hurt by a storm so many had feared. Not a word from any of the top speakers. How cold.

Hilary Rosen, a CNN contributor, is a Democratic political strategist and former chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Ruben Navarrette: We got ourselves a ballgame

Where have the Republicans been hiding this guy?

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

I like the kinder, gentler, more emotive Mitt Romney better than the old version. Romney's competence was never in question. His success in business speaks for itself. The U.S. economy is broken, and Romney and running mate Paul Ryan might just be the ones to fix it.

Romney might well make a good president. But it hasn't always seemed that he has the political skills to be elected president. And unfortunately for Republicans, that's how you get this job. And for that, you need not just smarts and talent but an extra helping of social skills.

Before he took the podium at the Republican National Convention to deliver the most important speech of his life, Romney had shortcomings, including many that his primary opponents in two elections were only too happy to point out. He has often come across to voters as hollow, unlikable, plastic, untruthful and unable to relate to the plight of everyday Americans.

That's not the person who showed up in Tampa. At times during his speech, Romney was funny, affable, vulnerable and even endearing. He seemed to choke up when he talked about his parents, his wife and his children. And he delivered lines like this:

"Those weren't the easiest of days: too many long hours and weekends working, five young sons who seemed to have this need to re-enact a different world war every night. But if you ask Ann and I what we'd give to break up just one more fight between the boys or wake up in the morning and discover a pile of kids asleep in our room, well, every mom and dad knows the answer to that."

Yes, Mitt. Give us more of that. The American people want a president who will lead them to prosperity and keep them and their families safe in an unpredictable dangerous world. But they also want one who they like, who can relate to their struggles, who understands their lives, who supports their dreams and who inspires them to something better. The old Mitt didn't convey that. The new one does.

We got ourselves a ball game.

Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

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