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Storm presents perfect challenge for Romney


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Updated: September 29, 2012 6:16AM

CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. — Mitt Romney has an optics problem.

And, reserved as he is, an emotive challenge.

Tropical Storm Isaac threatens to make landfall at the same time Romney’s nominating convention prepares to crest in Tampa. The two storylines have been on a collision course since Sunday. And organizers of the Republican National Convention recognize the dangerous dissonance of delegates with cracked crab and cocktails in hand while their fellow Americans, just a couple of states away, are frantically sandbagging to salvage their homes.

“It does present sort of an optics challenge,” said Tom Bevan, editor of the Chicago-based RealClearPolitics, the must-read website for politicians and political junkies alike.

“On the day that Mitt Romney, for example, is accepting the Republican nomination, you [could have] a split screen showing flooding and chaos in New Orleans. That’s going to be a challenge.”

At the Florida hotel where the Illinois delegation is staying, Bevan was already hunched over his laptop at 3:30 a.m. Monday studying the political stories, op-eds and political polls that would headline his RCP blog.

His two lead items perfectly portrayed Romney’s predicament. The first was a Washington Post piece titled, “On Eve of Conventions, Race a Dead Heat.”

Good news for the GOP that Barack Obama’s lead in critical polls had shrunk in the last two weeks and in a recent Washington Post/ABC survey the dead heat had Romney at 47, Obama at 46.

The second story in the Weekly Standard carried the headline, “Learning to Like Mitt Romney, Reluctantly.”

It is a funny, acerbic piece by conservative Andrew Ferguson who has come to conclude that however irritatingly wholesome, off-putting and stiff the candidate is, Romney is nonetheless, a “good guy.”

Faint praise is not enough to get Romney to the dance. It’s one thing to be respected but quite another to inspire the kind of love that Barack Obama got in 2008 and today is working mightily to reignite.

Then again, Demetra DeMonte, Republican National Committee secretary, argues that Romney’s most powerful emotional message is about the OTHER storm that is battering this country. The still uneven, fragile economy that’s played havoc with this country’s notion of what it means to be middle class.

“Our American dream is in jeopardy,” said DeMonte, a Chicago native who now lives in Downstate Pekin. “We are at a fork in the road. That is the greater storm, yes.”

Still, and urgently, it’s the sheets of rain and wind pounding the Gulf that demands Romney’s most immediate response.

Bevan believes, given the current narrowing of Obama’s lead in most polls, that this convention presents a critical moment in Romney’s trajectory as a candidate.

“This event needs to be for him a chance to show his human side. To show some emotion. And that may present an opportunity ... if there is a natural disaster taking place a few hundred miles away.”

Romney, a pragmatist, might take a page from the playbook of the ultimate pragmatist, Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

Never waste a crisis.

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