Mitt Romney will step up for the most important speech of his Republican US presidential campaign tonight, after a fiery warm-up from a running mate who said President Barack Obama was “grasping at a moment that has already passed.”
Having won the nomination on his second try, Mr Romney will use his speech to introduce himself to millions of voters on a national stage in a race against Obama that could scarcely be any closer. Republican colleagues urged the normally reserved Mr Romney to make an emotional connection.
As part of that introduction, Mr Romney appeared prepared to discuss his Mormon faith in more direct terms than usual, a direction signalled by running mate Paul Ryan last night in several allusions to the duo’s differing religions but “same moral creed.” Many Americans view Mormonism as not part of the Christian tradition.
Polls show the presidential race is dead even, with less than three months to go before the November election. Mr Romney, a multimillionaire businessman and former governor, holds an advantage as the candidate best equipped to revive the struggling US economy, while President Obama leads as the most likeable candidate.
Most American voters are only now beginning to tune in to the presidential race, after a bitter and extended Republican nominating contest and an unusually negative campaign in which Mr Romney and Mr Obama have relied heavily on negative advertising.
“With all their attack ads, the president is just throwing away money – and he’s pretty experienced at that,” Mr Ryan said as he took aim at the president on economic issues, easily the most important ones for voters this year.
This week’s Republican convention has given the party a chance to show itself in its best light and energise a conservative base that has been wary of Mr Romney’s more moderate positions on social issues as governor of the liberal-leaning Massachusetts.
Many have also been uncertain about Mr Romney’s religion, and Mr Ryan and other Republican leaders tried to ease concerns. “I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country,” said former pastor Mike Huckabee in his speech.
The choice of Mr Ryan as running mate has helped reach out to solid conservatives. The congressman, with a reputation for vigorous attempts to cut government spending, has become the party’s darling since joining the ticket.
Mr Ryan was particularly cutting in his indictment of the president, even in a convention loaded with anti-Obama rhetoric. “Fear and division are all they’ve got left,” he said, adding, “Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed.”
But Mr Ryan misrepresented Mr Obama’s record at times, and seemed to forget his own, notably on Medicare, the federal health insurance programme for Americans over age 65. As the country’s vast baby boomer generation ages, they have turned their attention to the programme.
Mr Ryan said sharply that “the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly So they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funnelled out of Medicare by President Obama.” He was speaking of the Obama-driven overhaul of the US health care system that Mr Romney and Mr Ryan promise to undo.
In fact, Mr Ryan himself incorporated the same Medicare cuts into budgets he steered through the House in the past two years as chairman of its Budget Committee, using the money for deficit reduction.
“We will not duck the tough issues; we will lead,” Mr Ryan promised. But Mr Romney has yet to flesh out those fiscal choices.
Mr Ryan wants big increases in military spending, along with lower taxes, without saying how he would make good on his pledge to cut £300 billion a year from the federal budget. That goal appears realistic only if budget cutters slash massive amounts from the federal Social Security pension system, Medicare, health research, transportation, homeland security and aid to the poor.
In a letter sent this morning to potential Democratic donors, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Mr Ryan’s speech “represents a huge bet by the Mr Romney campaign – they’ve decided that facts, truth and reality will not be a brake on their campaign message.”
The president himself was staying out of the spotlight today. But in an interview with Time magazine released today, Mr Obama said he was hopeful for a more productive second term if re-elected, because “the American people will have made a decision. And, hopefully, that will impact how Republicans think about these problems.”
The president added that he needs to do a better job of communicating his goals to the American people. The interview was conducted last week.
Foreign policy was finally addressed yesterday during the mostly inward-looking convention, with Condoleezza Rice, George W Bush’s secretary of state and the first black female in that job, criticising the Obama administration’s approach to national security.
“We cannot be reluctant to lead – and one cannot lead from behind,” she said.
Pressed repeatedly during an earlier interview with CBS to provide specific examples of where Mr Obama has failed on foreign policy, Ms Rice declined to offer examples.