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Romney looks to redefine himself, place focus on economy at convention

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Politics,Brian Hughes,Politics Digest,2012 Elections,Larry Sabato,Mitt Romney

TAMPA, Fla. - Republicans hope to use their national convention, which kicks off Tuesday, to reintroduce Mitt Romney to a public that has not yet warmed to him, while convincing women that the party is not hostile to them and focusing the country's attention on what the GOP maintains is President Obama's miserable failure to manage the economy and create jobs.

The festivities in rain-soaked Florida offer the former Massachusetts governor a fresh opportunity to define himself. The convention could prove perhaps his last best chance to reach independent voters on an emotional level, gain the trust of wary working-class voters turned off by his patrician bearing, and reverse the so-far successful attacks of the Obama campaign that have cast him as an uncaring, aloof corporate raider.

Under a glaring national spotlight, Romney's White House aspirations will be lifted or damaged by the degree to which he meets the following objectives during the abbreviated, three-day gathering:

Shed image as an out-of-touch stiff from New England

President Obama's campaign team has spent months painting Romney as a wealthy and ruthless tycoon who amassed a personal fortune in part by shipping American jobs overseas. The attacks have worked. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows voters view Obama as far more likable than Romney. While the poll shows the overall race as a dead heat, Obama has a 34 percentage-point lead over Romney in likability -- 61 percent to 27 percent.

In an effort to change that, Romney will surround himself at the convention with his large, telegenic family, while touting traditional values.

Some doubt he can change the way he is perceived.

"All the underlying data shows he's having a problem with trust concerns," said Christopher Lehane, a Democratic strategist and former aide to President Clinton. "He's not comfortable with his biography, and he's not a particularly gifted speaker. [Changing his image] will be a steep challenge."

Make inroads with female voters

Romney's White House hopes are encumbered by the GOP's standing among women, who backed Obama by a 13 percentage-point margin in 2008 and have shown no more enthusiasm for this year's GOP contender than they did for Sen. John McCain.

Republicans have been on the defensive for much of the election cycle on contraceptives, abortion and equal pay for women -- criticism that intensified in the wake of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's remarks about "legitimate rape."

Romney has a long list of female speakers lined up, including his wife, to soften his image among suburban women in particular.

"The economy can change his standing with women, not a bunch of speakers," said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. "It would have to be women looking at depressing economic statistics and saying, 'I can't take four more years of this.'"

Keep focus on the economy

The Romney campaign would like to frame the election as a referendum of Obama's stewardship of the economy. Yet, team Romney has devoted much of its energy in recent weeks to social concerns, tax returns and a variety of issues that fall outside the purview of Romney's greatest strength with voters: his ability to turn the economy around.

Some analysts said the convention could provide Romney with the boost he needs heading into November.

"If Romney makes a coherent critique of the Obama economy -- and that remains the focus of the election -- he wins," said Frank Donatelli, a Republican strategist who helped organize McCain's convention in 2008.

Win the Obamacare/Ryan budget debate

With the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate, Romney brought the controversial issue of entitlement funding to the forefront of the election.

Romney must convince voters the Ryan pick displays a commitment to getting the country's fiscal house back in order rather than radically overhauling payments to retirees.

Ryan has proved he can mobilize the GOP base, but will his budget blueprint turn off independents in swing states? Both will make their cases before millions of viewers in prime-time addresses that could cement impressions of the duo among uncommitted voters.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner