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CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Looking For a Tail Wind

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Looking For a Tail Wind
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso talks with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on the floor of the Republican National Convention today. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing is being published from the GOP Convention in Tampa, Fla., this week. For more information on signing up to receive this free email, click here.

THE PODIUM: The 2,286 delegates convened at 2 and are about to start the process of officially nominating Willard Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate for president and Paul Davis Ryan as the party’s candidate for vice president. It’s the convention’s official reason for being, and getting the formalities right out of the way will allow the ticket to start spending the tens of millions already raised specifically for the general election.

After that’s done, the convention will reconvene at 7, with Boehner delivering the opening speech (“Where are the jobs?” he’ll ask, as he always does on such occasions  — heralding the day’s “We built it” theme that Republican small-government is best for the economy.) Other speakers in the first hour include Rick Santorum, talking about welfare to fire up the socially conservative base; the top woman in the House GOP leadership, Cathy McMorris Rogers; and the party’s top African-American congressional recruit, Utah’s Mia Love.

Tune in on cable in the 8 o’clock hour for Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and four prominent governors: Ohio’s John Kasich, Oklahoma’s Mary Fallin, Virginia’s  Bob McDonnell and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. The next hour is designed to make the most of the party’s limited ethnic diversity: Two non-white governors, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, senator-in-waiting Ted Cruz of Texas  and former Rep. Artur Davis, a once-rising African-American star for the Democrats who has now defected to the GOP. (He’s also moved from Alabama to Virginia to look for an electoral comeback opportunity.)

The last hour of prime time (the only one the broadcast networks will carry) is devoted to the humanizing-the-candidate efforts of Ann Romney (a few minutes after 10) and the keynote by Chris Christie about 30 minutes later. (Even the New Jersey governor, who is fabled for orations as extemporaneous as they are plainspoken, has submitted to writing out his speech and having it vetted by the Romney message-makers.)

THE TICKET: Romney and Ryan both arrived into Tampa at midday. Convention organizers were mum on their plans for the rest of the day, but “surprise” appearances inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum during the marquee speeches were widely anticipated. (Aides to the about-to-be nominee said his Thursday night speech was finished; his running mate worked during the flight from Wisconsin on his text for tomorrow night.)

THE OTHER TICKET: “Now is not the time to tempt fate, now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously,” Obama said from the White House this morning in warning Gulf Coast residents to prepare for Isaac’s landfall. He also made clear to note that “under my direction” FEMA has been preparing for the storm for more than a week, long before it blew the first script for the GOP convention into the wind.

He then took off on a two-day campaign trip to woo college voters in three swing states. He appeared at a rally this afternoon at Iowa State and will speak  at 7:30 (Eastern time) at a rally at Colorado State; tomorrow he’ll be outside the U-Va. Campus in Charlottesville. (Biden is off-camera in Washington.)

THE RAIN IS GONE: The split-screen convention is under way, with no plans for slowing it down or speeding it up or steering it in a different rhetorical direction.

By the evening news, Republicans will have their presidential candidate legally locked in place. By bedtime, with a mixture of familial soft soap and conservative hard edge, they will have taken their best surrogate shots at defining — once and for all — the investment-banker-turned-politician who remains remarkably enigmatic (at best) or chameleon-like (at worst) seven years after he first set his sights on becoming the most powerful person on earth. And by morning, no matter how profound or underwhelming the damage along the Gulf Coast, the GOP will have a sense about whether it’s making any inroads with the 1 in 10 voters who are going to decide who becomes president for the next four years. If the undecided start buying the two-pronged GOP elevator pitch — that Romney is less disconnected from the everyday world than you might realize, and far more capable of kick-starting the economy than the incumbent — then there’s hope for a Republican happy ending in 10 weeks.

The current polling shows the popular vote at a statistical tie, as it has been all summer, but the state-by-state map shows clearly that he can count on at most 191 electoral votes at the moment — meaning he’s got to win at least 79 of the 146 electoral votes from the 11 states that are still being contested by both the Romney-Ryan forces and the Obama-Biden re-election campaign. The conventional wisdom is that Romney’s essential building blocks for victory start with Florida (29 votes), North Carolina (15) and Ohio (18) and then some combination of Virginia (13), Iowa (6), Wisconsin (10) and New Hampshire (4). The longer shots among the tossup states look to be Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), Nevada (6) and Colorado (9). The back-of-the-envelope math is that Romney’s best shot at picking the lock on the Electoral College is to win the votes of at least three out of every five white men — because Obama has regularly been polling at or above 50 percent among women, and 6 to 10 points better than Romney. Obama also has a 2-to-1 advantage among Latinos and a 10-point edge among the elderly.

The Tampa Bay weather for the delayed-by-a-day opening of the proceedings was summertime classic — blue skies, scudding clouds and hot, humid air. Operatives conceded in hindsight that the postponement had not been necessary at all, but defended the decision as prudently appropriate when the call had to be made. They were also palpably relieved that Isaac had skirted the convention city, and grew more cautiously optimistic this afternoon that the storm’s landfall would not be all that destructive — and that by the time Romney speaks Thursday his coverage will justifiably outdistance that of the aftermath.

MASTER THESPIANS: There’s only one part left to be cast in the rehearsal productions for this fall’s debates — the role of Joe Biden on the Paul Ryan murder-board team. The choice is not going to be the same as in 2008, when the job went to Sarah Palin’s foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann, but people in the Romney campaign’s circles say there hasn’t been any concerted talk about who has the right combination of loquaciousness, off-beat humor and policy sophistication (on matters foreign and domestic) to emulate the vice president. Lindsey Graham and Tom Coburn are two senators whose names are being bandied about (because they know how to talk and know what they’re talkin’ about). Others mentioned include two of this year’s vice-presidential pass-overs, Chris Christie (for the populist vibe) and Bobby Jindal (for the wonkish part).

The speculating game kicked off today after it was confirmed that, as expected, Rob Portman would take on the Obama role in rehearsals for Romney’s three debate appearances. It is the fourth time the GOP insider has taken on such a job: He first played Obama for John McCain four years ago, and he served as the both the John Kerry practice partner for Bush in 2004 and the John Edwards substitute for Dick Cheney the same year. (It’s been known for a while now that Kerry will play the Romney role in Obama’s debate preparations and Chris Van Hollen will work to channel his fellow House Budget panel leader Ryan on the Biden debate team.)

TRAIL TIPS: (Arizona) Dave Schweikert looks to have sewn up today’s marquee congressional primary. In the nastiest and most  personal  of this year’s member-against-member House races, he has opened up a seemingly solid lead against fellow conservative freshman Ben Quayle in the solidly Republican suburban Phoenix seat where both decided to stake their young congressional careers. In a neighboring and open district, drawn to be a political jump ball, the best bets are on former Democratic  state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and former GOP Mayor Vernon Parker of Paradise Valley to win their primaries. Freshman Paul Gosar will withstand a concerted (and Club for Growth-funded) primary challenge from state Sen. Ron Gould in a solidly Republican House district that sprawls over most of the western third of the state. And Rep. Jeff Flake has overtaken real estate investor Wil Cardon, who stopped spending money on his once-promising bid a few weeks ago, and will easily secure the GOP nomination to become the slight but definite frontrunner to hold Jon Kyl’s Senate seat this fall against Democrat Richard Carmona, a former surgeon general.

(Pennsylvania) Just when it seemed the Todd Akin “legitimate rape” controversy had been pushed out of the spotlight for a little bit, this state’s much-more-longshot GOP Senate candidate, former coal company executive Tom Smith, offered a reminder yesterday of just how much some of the party’s candidates struggle to articulate the subtleties of their “pro-life” positions. Asked by reporters to describe what other life experience was similar to having a baby from rape, he said: “Having a baby out of wedlock.” When asked whether that was similar to rape, Smith said: “No, no, no, but well put yourself in a father’s position. Yes, I mean it is similar.” Smith was already trailing incumbent Democrat Bob Casey by doubled digits in recent polls, so his remarks will get much less notice than what Akin said in previously tossup Missouri.

(Oklahoma) The state’s only potentially competitive House race is in the so-called Little Dixie seat being yielded by Blue Dog Democrat Dan Boren, and today’s Democratic primary runoff results will decide if the party has a more-than-outside shot at holding on. That will happen if, as expected, the nomination goes to former local prosecutor and establishment choice Rob Wallace. (His opponent is seed dealer Wayne Herriman.) But Republicans are confident that either of their candidates in the faceoff will pick up the seat in the fall. The slight favorite is plumbing services company owner Markwayne Mullin; his rival is state Rep. George Faught.

(Connecticut) A pair of polls out today offer mixed news for the parties in the state’s two competitive congressional races. A Quinnipiac University survey signaled that the open Senate seat race could be much more competitive than Democrats had been counting on: Republican former WWE executive Linda McMahon, thanks in part to the $65 million she’s spent on marketing herself this year and in her 2010 Senate race, is in a statistical tie (with a 49 to 46 percent edge) over Chris Murphy, the congressman for the state’s northwest corner. But in that open House district, where operatives on both sides have been talking about a potential tossup, a DCCC poll shows that organization’s candidate, former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, with a 9-point lead (44 to 35 percent) over GOP state Sen. Andrew Roraback.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “Without the energy and wisdom of the grassroots, the GOP would not have had the historic 2010 electoral victories,” Sarah Palin posted on her  Facebook page early today, and she urged Ron Paul supporters to keep up their fight against changing party rules to limit insurgency candidacies — which has become a proxy for their annoyance at the congressman’s convention sidelining. (He drew a throng and cheers when he appeared on the floor a few minutes before the day’s session began.) “The controversial rule change being debated at the RNC convention right now is so very disappointing. It’s a direct attack on grassroots activists by the GOP establishment, and it must be rejected.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No current lawmakers; the most prominent Republican celebrating is iconoclastic moderate Bill Cohen (72), a former Maine House member (he voted for Nixon’s impeachment) and senator who was Clinton’s second term Defense secretary.

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More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

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