Convention To Define Romney Before Fall Debates

A full slate of events gets underway at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday. Organizers will use the convention to give voters a more personal feel for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Steve Inskeep talks to Romney's political director Rich Beeson about countering Democrats' negative campaign ads.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Having sidestepped a storm in the Gulf, the Republican Convention begins a day late in Tampa. Organizers are hoping to give the public a better feel for a presidential candidate that many have been reluctant to embrace.

GREENE: Mitt Romney faces a historic opportunity: a chance to battle an incumbent president burdened by a slow economic recovery. His challenge throughout this campaign has been generating enthusiasm for himself. Surveys show well over 40 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the Republican nominee.

INSKEEP: President Obama's favorable numbers tend to be higher.

Now, to learn what the Republican campaign plans to do now, we talked with Governor Romney's political director, Rich Beeson, who is at the convention.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

INSKEEP: What do you think the public is missing so far about Mitt Romney that you'd like them to know?

RICH BEESON: Well, it's not so much what they're missing right now as it is as much as what the Obama campaign has been saying. I mean, you've got hundreds of millions of dollars of TV ads, well over 99 percent of all of the television ads that the Obama campaign have run have been negative. So that's what people are seeing and hearing out there. And I think as this convention progresses and America is introduced to Governor Romney and his family, I think you're going to see people liking what they see and what they hear.

INSKEEP: But how do you counter that? Because that what you just described is the reality of politics, negative ads.

BEESON: Well, again, I think that's what the convention is designed to do, is to introduce the governor and his family to the voters. Then you'll have three very well watched debates where they will get to see him and hear him, and that cuts through. Those things cut through the clutter and all of the noise of 30-second attack ads.

INSKEEP: As this campaign has evolved, have you begun concluding that just criticizing the president's performance on the economy will not be sufficient to win, that you have to do other things as well and send out other messages as well?

BEESON: Well, we have been doing other things. I mean, we, you know, when we talk about all of the attack ads that the Obama campaign has run, you know, we've been out there with Day One ads, talking about, in specific states, what Governor Romney would do on day one if he were elected president. But, certainly, President Obama does need to be held accountable: 23 million Americans out of work, three million who have just given up hope of finding a job, you know, a president who's been hostile to people who create jobs and gutting welfare reforms.

INSKEEP: What have you thought when some commentators have looked at some of the ads which you've been running that accuse President Obama of gutting work requirements? A fact-checking organization, PolitiFact - which is based in Florida, where you are - called this pants-on-fire false, and the ad has continued. Why keep running that ad?

BEESON: Well, you've got nine governors who have sent letters to President Obama saying we don't want to waive the work requirement. So they can parse it out how they like, and if, you know, we can have a policy discussion with the - over the policy of it. But as far as just the political reality of it, it does take out the work requirement.

INSKEEP: Doesn't the change mean that the governors can choose or can apply to change the work requirement, as opposed to being forced to remove it?

BEESON: Well again, that still is a change. So...

INSKEEP: But it's not, quote, "they just send you your check," which is what the ad says.

(LAUGHTER)

BEESON: I think reasonable people can have a disagreement over this, but he has significantly changed what President Clinton put in in 1996.

INSKEEP: Educate me a little bit here on the electoral map. In how many states will this election be decided this fall, as you see it?

BEESON: Well, it's still a wide-open map. In fact, it's more wide-open than I've seen it in a long time. When we're talking about a state like Wisconsin being in play, it's a state Republicans have not won since 1984 when Ronald Reagan won every state but one. So that's a pretty significant development, and it was in play before we named Congressman Ryan to the ticket.

Another state that you need to look at is Iowa. You know, it's a state that launched Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses. It voted for him. He won by nine points in 2008, and right now it's a tossup.

INSKEEP: Can you win this election without the state you're in now, without winning Florida?

BEESON: Yes. There - the Obama campaign has just over 300 past the 270 electoral votes. We have just under 300 past 270 electoral votes. Now, certainly...

INSKEEP: What do you mean - excuse me - what you mean by 300 past? You mean different ways to do the math?

BEESON: Different ways to do the math.

INSKEEP: OK. All right.

BEESON: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Go on.

BEESON: So you never want to say that one state is absolutely critical to a win. Obviously, Florida is a very important state to us, but there are other paths to 270.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Rich Beeson: You're looking at this campaign from the inside. Countless people are trying to analyze it from the outside. As you have read the analysis on this campaign, what's something that you think people don't quite understand, don't get?

BEESON: Oh...

(LAUGHTER)

BEESON: ...that's a tough question.

INSKEEP: We've got an hour, if you've got time.

(LAUGHTER)

BEESON: No. I, you know, I just think it's sort of the - how close this race really is, that it is within the margin of error in virtually every target state, and I think it will stay that way until folks hear from each of the candidates in the debates. And the great thing about this race is, is there is a very clear difference in the two candidates. They each have very, very stark differences in how they will approach the economy, putting people back to work, strengthening the middle class. There's not going to be a blurring of the lines between the two candidates. There will be very, very clear differences.

INSKEEP: Well, Rich Beeson, thanks very much for taking the time to talk with us. I appreciate it.

BEESON: Yes, sir. Thank you for having me on.

INSKEEP: He's national political director for the Romney campaign, giving there what he described to us as his first radio interview.

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