TAMPA – Mitt Romney delivered a fine, workmanlike speech tonight. The “oceans roll back” line was a hit; it was interpreted, in the room, as a knock on Barack Obama’s pomposity, not a joke about global warming. I left the speech next to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, though, and I had to ask him: What did he think of Romney playing up his father’s time in Mexico?
“I worked in Mexico City, with the DEA,” he said. “So I know all about where his family came from. My family came here from Italy. It was a good thing to talk about.”
I think so, too. But it was all fairly defensive, an argument that Romney should be liked, made to people whom – he assumes – don’t quite like him yet. There’ll be more in the ongoing breakfast table I’m writing with my colleagues here, but this sort of bio-to-promises ratio is really sort of ununusual in an acceptance speech. Barack Obama’s task in 2008 was similar to Romney’s. He needed to establish himself as a relatable guy. He needed to escape the Wright story about “cling to guns and religion.” So he did that, and went into a laundry list discussion of what he’s do as president. These speeches always have a few takeaway lines, but a good amount of grist if you’re a low information voter and honestly don’t know what these people want to do if they attain power.
The Romney speech was low on those details. It felt like a return to the reality of the winter campaign – that the fundamentals of the economy are so bad, voters will elevate any Obama opponent that they decide to trust.