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A political convention is about getting the party's message out, a sort of selective public education. That process began this morning with something called Newt U., a series of sessions for delegates led by former House speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
NPR'S Ted Robbins sat in the back of the class in a downtown Tampa hotel.
NEWT GINGRICH: We're meeting from 10 to 12 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and 11 to 1 on Thursday...
TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: The first thing a professor does is lay out the course schedule. Four days of what the Republican Party is calling Policy Workshops, workshops with a decidedly one-sided curriculum. As Professor Gingrich put it, these students need to learn the lessons and repeat them clearly.
GINGRICH: And I think one of the great failures of Republicans candidly is that we tell the truth less effectively than Democrats lie. And we are so startled by their dishonesty that we're sort of tongue tied.
ROBBINS: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was hoarse, but not tongue tied. He was one of Newt U's guest lecturers. Walker said his own campaigns, including a successful fight against a recall, is a lesson for the presidential campaign.
GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER REPUBLICAN, WISCONSIN: We understood in our campaign, we talked about the fact that people create jobs, not the government. So it'd be nice if the leader in Washington understood that people create jobs, not the government. And so we got government out of the way.
ROBBINS: That was just the sort of thing Joanne Kensinger, with the Kansas delegation, came to hear. She was wowed by Walker, by Gingrich, by all the Newt U faculty.
JOANNE KENSINGER: Well, you know, the amazing, absolutely amazing knowledge of these speakers, they're very factual. They're not - they're not throwing mud. They're proposing solutions. Yay.
ROBBINS: But Kensinger was just one of maybe two dozen delegates present at Newt U's first day. Most of the 150 or so people in the room were either journalists, guests or convention staff. Gingrich did say 1,000 people had logged on to Newt U online, though. No one is getting credit for these policy classes, of course. Unless you want to count a Republican win in November as successful completion of the course. For that to happen, Newt Gingrich says the race has to be about policy not personality. He used a decidedly non-academic analogy.
GINGRICH: If you had a choice of two plumbers because your house had a broken pipe, and one was a great guy to have a beer with but he couldn't fix the pipe. And the other guy was a really good plumber, but you didn't want to hang around and have a beer. Which plumber would you hire? And Obama's argument is I'm so nice, please ignore the disaster I'm creating. And Romney's argument is, look, I'm a very straightforward business guy and I want to fix the country.
ROBBINS: And that's one message Gingrich hopes students of Newt U will take home and repeat.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tampa.
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