Previewing The Democratic National Convention

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Weekend Edition Sunday guest host Linda Wertheimer speaks with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson about the latest political news, as we await the start of the Democratic National Convention.


We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So, first, let's check out what you think about the Republicans in their time in Tampa. Did they build a case for a Romney presidency?

LIASSON: Well, Romney's goal was to do three things: he had to humanize himself, close that likability gap with the president, he had to reach out to woman, because the gender gap is still around, even though Romney's doing very well among men. President Obama's doing better among women, and women are 53 percent of the electorate. He also had to make the most effective case he could to voters to fire President Obama. And I think the Romney campaign thinks they hit on that. It was an argument made more in sadness than in anger. He's a great guy. You liked him. You were inspired by him in 2008, but he's been disappointing. He hasn't done what he promised, therefore give somebody else a chance. As far as whether they succeeded, we're still waiting for polling. We don't see much of a bounce yet. We see maybe a tiny little bump for Romney. We do see that television ratings were below 2008 - that's not surprising. It's not exciting a race. But they were down by about 30 percent for the convention.

WERTHEIMER: OK. Looking ahead to the Democratic National Convention, what does President Obama need to do? What's his big goal?

LIASSON: Well, he has to make a case for a second term. He has to deliver a positive message, kind of defending his record without insulting people. He can't spin 8 percent unemployment as good news. But he can talk about how far the country's come and what will happen if he's re-elected; how his policies, how the achievements he has made in the last four years have laid the foundation for the next term. He has to focus on the choice between his vision and Mitt Romney's vision of the economy and the country. It's a stay-the-course message. It's a lot harder and more complicated argument to make than the one Mitt Romney made in Tampa.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, he has been, President Obama has been attacking the things that Mitt Romney might do. Do you think we're going to see an attempt to tie Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan, his running mate, to the Republicans in Congress, an unpopular group, among an unpopular group?

LIASSON: I certainly think so. For a very long time, the White House acted as if it wanted nothing more than an opponent whose name was Mr. House Republican, and they thought they got that with Paul Ryan. He's not only a member of the House, he's the intellectual leader of the House Republicans and the author of the budget that President Obama and his campaign have long wanted as a target. So, I do think you're going to see a lot of talk about the congressional Republicans. Congress, as you said, is at rock-bottom approval ratings. So, I think that will be a theme this week.

WERTHEIMER: So, Mara, where does the race stand right now?

LIASSON: The race is still dead even. To the extent there's been any tightening in the last couple of weeks, it's been small and it has been in Romney's direction. The thing that's so interesting is that neither of these candidates has been able to break free of the other. And now President Obama has a chance to try to do that with his convention. But I think it's extraordinary. Most people in both campaigns say they expect this race to be extremely tight all the way until the end.

WERTHEIMER: Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you, Linda.


WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News.

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