Duke students and faculty were among those watching last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., gleaning mixed reactions of the GOP’s presentation of its presidential ticket.
The Republicans’ “We Built It” theme, centered around the economy and small businesses, and the convention’s showcase of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s personal side will help the Republican ticket in November if the message reaches voters, said Duke professors and students who attended the convention.
Romney’s appearance at the convention gave him a chance to counter the recent waves of negative advertisements directed at him from President Barack Obama’s campaign, said Peter Feaver, professor of political science and director of the American Grand Strategy program.
“At the convention, he was able to present who he was,” said Feaver, who served as a national security adviser to former President George W. Bush. “And what he presented was much more positive than the cartoon images that the attack ads had been painting.”
Choosing Rep. Paul Ryan as the vice-presidential nominee consolidated the Republican base around Romney, Feaver added, which is always a goal of political conventions.
Although speeches and appearances by Romney’s wife Ann and other family members “humanized” Romney, the convention might not have been successful in garnering independent voter support for Romney, said Mac McCorkle, former Democratic political consultant and associate professor of the practice of public policy.
Viewership ratings for Romney’s acceptance speech were more than 17 percent lower than Sen. John McCain’ acceptance speech at the 2008 convention, shortly after he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate, according to data from ratings giant Nielsen.
“It’s staggering how these big events—the State of the Union, presidential press conferences, now conventions—have been dropping in viewership,” McCorkle said. “The Super Bowl is still an event that everybody watches, but not these political events.”
Voters will form their opinion of Romney based on the news and social media coverage of the convention more than than the original footage that aired on television, he added.
Paul Vanderslice, a senior, and Daniel Strunk, a junior, attended the convention and both said they thought the Republican Party successfully presented a message of party unity and ability to tackle the nation’s issues—particularly the economy—better than Obama.
Members of Vanderslice’s family traveled from Connecticut at the convention, so he spent the convention as a guest of that group. Strunk is the head of collegiate outreach for North Carolina Young Americans for Romney and was a guest of the North Carolina delegation.
After following Romney’s campaign closely and working for it as an official volunteer since last year, Vanderslice said he jumped on the opportunity to attend the convention. A past president of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at Duke, Vanderslice is the head of greek-affiliated student outreach for NCYAFR. During the day, Vanderslice attended events featuring well-known conservative speakers such as New Jersey Governer Chris Christie and political advisor Karl Rove.
“It was cool just to walk around not doing anything in particular—you just see famous politicians and reporters everywhere,” Vanderslice said.
Vanderslice said the lineup of speakers in addition to Romney and Ryan was one up-and-coming Republican politician after another—Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul and Christie, a group that he thought showcased the deep talent bench in the GOP.
Strunk said he was most impressed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s speech.
“Condi Rice was successful because she talked about civil rights and broke the Republican mold,” McCorkle said. “It was a little odd that a lot of the speakers talked a lot more about themselves than they did about Mitt Romney, especially Chris Christie.”
Being in the fray of the convention made it difficult for him to determine the impact the speeches might have had on home viewers, Strunk noted.
“What I witnessed was markedly different from what anyone would have witnessed at home,” he noted. “I was directly in the action. I was feeling the energy from a crowd of thousands of people who are going to vote for Romney no matter what.”