Romney's speech was not enthralling but a job well done

Mitt Romney and family members on the final day of the Republican National Convention Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mitt Romney revealed his softer side by sharing personal stories about his family life

Mitt Romney tried to deal with a basic weakness in his big speech, and he did it rather deftly.

The opinion polls still have him running neck and neck with President Barack Obama, but dig a little deeper and they show something else as well. That people may trust Romney more to run the economy but they don't like him as much as President Obama.

In fact they don't really seem to know him at all.

There will have been many people in the hall, as there are many in the country, who loathe and detest President Obama with a raw fury.

But they probably didn't vote for him in the first place. Their votes are pretty much in the bag.

Romney had to appeal to those who feel let down, disappointed, not angry. He appealed to a sense of buyer's remorse.

He tried to weave together this theme with his personal story and a tale about the economy, as well as themes of American greatness.

His speech set out to be a subtle and ambitious construct but came over as sometimes flat, with odd conjunctions and inelegant segues.

"I mentored and supported great women leaders who went on to run great companies. I grew up in Detroit in love with cars and wanted to be a car guy, like my dad."

But the odd structure hardly matters. That is for connoisseurs of political speeches.

Devastating blow

It wasn't enthralling but it did the job. Two lines in particular were devastating.

"Hope and Change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I'd ask a simple question: if you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now that he's President Obama?

"You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him."

And later on:

"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise... is to help you and your family."

Before the speech began, I scrawled seven words on my notepad, summing up the six things I'd be looking out for. So how did he do?

  • Red meat: He didn't throw much to the crowd and that is strategically sensible. There was a glancing reference to abortion and marriage, and the attacks on President Obama were dignified and sober.
  • Likeability: He told his own story and the story of his family and that will have some appeal.
  • Leadership: No real sense of strong leadership, except through his claims to be competent.
  • Policy: A five-point plan to create 12 million jobs. That is pretty thin, but probably okay for this big a speech.
  • Charisma: Not much evidence of this, but he was less stiff and awkward than usual.
  • Tone: Absolutely right to appeal to the middle ground. He didn't sound nasty, or angry or divisive.

The speech followed an outpouring of admiration that most people don't get until they're dead. Three hours of testimony from those who know him.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Clint Eastwood's surreal monologue provided the most memorable moment of the night

Mitt the Mormon. Mitt the compassionate. The hall fell silent as an older couple talked about how he helped them as their teenage son was dying.

Mitt the businessman. Mitt the saviour of the Winter Olympics. Mitt the family man. Mitt and Ann on film talking about their love, along with a home video of their children and even the tin foil and duct tape he fixed up over some kitchen light.

I hadn't heard that before. Most of the other stories weren't new to me, but they will be to most Americans, to those who are not ardent admirers or political professionals.

'Kooky Clint'

But I have to say the standout memory of the night, that will last long after all others have faded was Clint's kooky cabaret.

It was the most surreal moment I have ever watched in a political conference, and I've been to a few in my time.

This part of the show starred Clint Eastwood, rambling, talking to an empty stool pretending it was President Obama.

The tight relentless focus on Mitt the man of character fell apart as Eastwood blew a magnum-sized hole in the oh-so-carefully coiffured plans for the night. He talked to the stool pretending it was Mr Obama:

"What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. I can't tell him to do that to himself."

He seemed to suggest America shouldn't have gone to war in Afghanistan, but I may have misunderstood - judge for yourself.

But he did get the crowd to chant "make my day" and that made their day. The strategists must have been having kittens during Clint but all in all got the evening right.

They will have to wait for the next opinion polls to find out if this day will make it their year.