First, the weather -- anyone who has ever lived in Florida knows that the ultimate paths of tropical storms and hurricanes are impossible to predict. When in law school in Florida, I sat through days of a hurricane that just parked itself in the Gulf, close to land. It refused to move -- sending tons of rain and wind our way, but never actually making landfall. It was a truly miserable experience.
This one had the perfect timing to put the convention, at the very least, in the tanks with the media. Prior to opening day it still seemed possible that Tampa-St. Pete might be hard hit by the storm, even if it did not strike in that area. And as if on cue, the storm reached landfall east of New Orleans, reminding all of the tragedy of Katrina, just as the first full night of speeches began. Hence, the pitiful amount of coverage provided the convention by the three broadcast networks was split between the messages on the podium and a split screen look at the rain and wind in New Orleans.
That might not be such a bad thing, given that the night's major speech by an elected official, that of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, was generally viewed by the media and most who saw it on TV as a bit of a bomb. Perhaps this was due to the unrealistically high expectations commentators had going into the fiery and blunt Christie's speech. Or perhaps this was due to its lack of reference to Mitt Romney and the seeming impression it left with many viewers that it was more about Christie and his future than the 2012 election of Romney.
And to be fair to Christie, the speech likely seemed flat because many in the audience were flat, as well. Why was that? Because when you leave thousands of political types with nothing to do on a canceled first day of a convention in a major Florida population center with rain, wind and no sun, you get one thing: lots of drinking and partying. That leads to the next day, which brings ... lots of hangovers.
In fact, the entire first night of full events in Tampa seemed like a big hangover to those viewing the proceedings. Yes, delegates went wild with applause, but not in a really passionate or over-the-top way. Only Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, brought any level of real human emotion to the convention hall. And her talk was about ... Mitt Romney and his human emotions and ways!
Of course, the biggest obstacle the GOP faced in Tampa was the national media. Relentless in their less-than-subtle digs at Romney and the Republicans, the elite media continue to ignore bad gross domestic product numbers, increases in the unemployment stats and a vice president whose crazy talk, we find out, even shocked those who directly were involved in hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden.
According to many convention-goers, there are both good and bad aspects to this year's gathering -- although almost all say the convention's leadership team has done everything possible to make it a great experience.
But there remains a bit of an odd feeling to the Romney team's orchestration of the event. Once the presiding officer of a national convention, former Speaker Newt Gingrich was relegated to teaching something called "Newt University" to convention-goers. And Herman Cain, another of Romney's primary opponents, was forced to hold a rump convention of sorts where he declared the need to elect Romney.
It really makes no sense to leave a conservative former speaker and a dynamic African-American leader out of the mix when trying to rally the party faithful, because it is the party faithful who watch this stuff.
All in all, it will come down to Romney's own performance at the convention and in the debates that will likely help decide this close race. He alone can win it. But a partly hung-over, weather-beaten and media-bruised GOP convention crowd is a tough customer in the dog days of an election summer.
Matt Towery heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage. Follow him on Twitter @matttowery. To find out more about Matt Towery and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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