Republicans Must Do More With Less At Convention

Mara Liasson joins Audie Cornish from the Republican National Convention hall in Tampa, Fla.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish.

The Republican convention began today with a very abbreviated floor schedule, emphasis on abbreviated. Attendees met for just a few minutes. The main events have been delayed until tomorrow because of Tropical Storm Isaac.

Joining us now from the convention hall in Tampa is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And, Mara, I can hear some musical acts warming up there. Talk a little bit about what this abbreviated schedules meant for Republicans.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, yeah, you do hear people rehearsing here. I'm up here in the (unintelligible) section with the cocoons full of balloons ready to be dropped on the delegates at the right moment. But the abbreviated schedule means that they had to scrunge the big speeches into three nights instead of four and they don't think that they're losing anything big by doing that.

On the other hand, they're paying very close attention to that storm, which is barreling its way towards the coast, towards New Orleans, ready to make changes if necessary.

CORNISH: So, what are the contingency plan should the storm intensify and really hit Louisiana or the Gulf Coast?

LIASSON: Well, the convention organizers say they're in close contact with NOAA. They're paying very close attention, but they want to avoid the optics of a kind of split screen image of devastation in New Orleans and people in funny hats partying in Tampa. So they're very sensitive to the optics and they'll make changes if necessary. But they're watching this day to day and you never know what the storm is going to do in the next 24 hours.

CORNISH: Now, you mentioned split screen. There was so much controversy over television coverage. Can you tell us, I mean, is three days actually a better formula?

LIASSON: There are a lot of people here who think we're witnessing the extinction of the four-day convention. And it can't come soon enough. You know, the Democrats already have a three-day schedule in Charlotte. Four years ago, John McCain had to shorten his convention to three days because of Hurricane Gustav. And most people I talked to say these conventions are very expensive. There's no suspense anymore, nothing really happens at them. They're a four or three-day infomercial and that three days would be just fine. And that's probably what you're going to see in the future.

CORNISH: Let's talk about the unofficial agenda for the week. What does Governor Romney need to accomplish in these next three days?

LIASSON: Well, he has to try to do something about the deficit that he comes into this convention with, although he is tied with the president in the polls, he does have poor likability ratings. No challenger since 1984 has come into their convention with higher negative personal ratings than Romney. So he wants to soften his image.

You're going to hear from people who worked with him. You're going to hear from people who he helped through his church, people at the Olympics that he ran and you're also - starting yesterday in a series of television interviews, you've heard Mitt Romney and his wife Ann talk about some personal details. They shop at Costco. Romney irons his own shirts. So, he's going to be personalized and trying to counteract the image of a wealthy, out-of-touch plutocrat that has been painted by the Obama campaign.

CORNISH: So that's the state of things for Romney. Overall, what's the state of the race as Republicans are gathering there in Tampa?

LIASSON: Well, it's a dead heat. There's been a tiny movement to Romney in the last few weeks since he picked - put Paul Ryan on the ticket. There has been some real movement in Wisconsin, a state that Republicans hope they can now put in play. It's Ryan's home state. But it doesn't seem like the controversies over Todd Akin's comments on abortion, Romney's joke about birth certificates or even Paul Ryan's controversial Medicare plan has hurt the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Still, there are very few game-changing opportunities left in this campaign. The debates are crucial, but conventions can be game changers and Mitt Romney hopes that this one can be a game changer for him and he can come out of this convention with a positive image, convincing people that he has a plan to not only fix the economy, but as one of his campaign officials say today, increase the take home pay of ordinary middle class Americans.

CORNISH: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson from Tampa. Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Audie.

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