Democratic convention security rules raise free speech concerns

Visitors take photos of the main stage during the public unveiling of Democratic National Convention’s facilities at Time Warner Arena in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 31, 2012.
(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Starting Saturday, someone walking through Charlotte’s central business district could run afoul of the law by carrying water bottles, hair spray, socks or magic markers under sweeping security rules enacted ahead of the Democratic National Convention.

It would take a particularly strict reading of the rules for someone to be arrested simply for possessing one of those items, but the possibility exists — which worries protesters and free speech advocates. They fear authorities could trample on people’s constitutional rights in the name of protecting public safety.

The changes to city ordinances adopted earlier this year for “extraordinary events” ban a long list of actions and items that would otherwise be legal from a more than 100-square-block zone. The area includes spots as much as a mile from the sports venues where the Democratic Party events are to be held.

The new rules have already been used for events before the convention and will remain on the books after it’s over.

The special rules that went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday could also bar anyone other than government employees from carrying handbags and backpacks or possessing soda cans, drink coolers, scarves, bike helmets, baby strollers or pets not specifically permitted as service animals.

A section banning “a container or object of sufficient weight to be used as a projectile” could be interpreted to include almost anything, from an apple to an iPhone.

Those caught violating any of these prohibitions could be subject to arrest and jail.

Similar prohibitions have been in place at past conventions, especially those following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Outside the Republican National Convention in 2004, New York City police carried out mass arrests, detaining hundreds of people for days in miserable conditions on a Hudson River pier. Most of those charges were later dropped or thrown out, triggering dozens of lawsuits against the city.

At the rain-soaked Republican Convention in Tampa earlier this week, officials banned umbrellas, baseballs and puppet-making materials. There, the rules went largely untested after only a fraction of the expected protesters showed up due to worries about Hurricane Isaac.

Charlotte’s Uptown business district is home to the headquarters of Bank of America and substantial operations for Wells Fargo, two of the nation’s largest financial institutions. The “March on Wall Street South” scheduled for Sunday is expected to draw thousands of protesters.

Members of Occupy Charlotte, who are helping to organize the march, said turnout for that and other protests could get a boost from demonstrators deterred from Tampa by the weather. At the other end of the political spectrum, tea party activists and other right wing groups are also planning protests.

City and police officials stressed that it’s their responsibility to maintain law and order. There has been street violence at some recent high-profile events, such as the 2008 GOP convention in Minneapolis and the NATO Summit in Chicago this year.

“History has shown, unfortunately, that while the vast majority are law-abiding and peaceful, expressing their First Amendment rights, a number of folks use the opportunity of large crowds and a platform to cause harm and violence,” said Charlotte City Attorney Robert Hagemann, who helped draft the extraordinary event ordinance.

Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said that some of Charlotte’s new measures could violate constitutional protections, depending on how they are enforced. Brook said he’s especially concerned by language that bars bags “carried with the intent to conceal weapons or other prohibited items.”

One way for an officer to determine whether an opaque bag held by a person contains a prohibited item would be to search it.

But if the person declines to submit to a warrantless search, which is a citizen’s protected right, the officer is left to either let the person go or decide that the person is intending to conceal any of the dozens of prohibited items. That could trigger an arrest, during which a search could occur.

“I think it’s exceptionally difficult to divine whether someone is carrying a backpack for their books or carrying a backpack with the intent to conceal weapons,” Brook said. “I think that could easily lead to standardless searches. I think it could easily lead to situations where there is some profiling going on, for example a person wearing a business suit might be far less likely to be searched than some other individuals who might be downtown.”

Hagemann said officers will use their training, experience and common sense to enforce the ordinances fairly. He said there could be reasonable suspicion to search someone’s bag based on body language or demeanor, or if the bag appears to be especially heavy or have sharp, protruding edges. Possession of knives, chains sticks and pipes are banned the ordinance.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, handguns and rifles are not included in the long list of potential weapons banned by the city. North Carolina state law specifically grants the right to carry firearms in public places, either in plain view or, if the person has a special permit, concealed.

However, Hagemann said that state law doesn’t allow guns for those participating in parades or marches, or for spectators of those events.

Since the new ordinances were approved in January, officials have already applied the “extraordinary” designation to other events where protesters were expected, including recent shareholder meetings for Bank of America and Duke Energy. Hagemann said the rules may be revisited after the DNC.

Protest leaders fear some the more than 1,750 Charlotte police officers might abuse their enhanced powers during the convention. Another concern is whether the 3,400 officers on loan from other departments have received adequate training on the Charlotte ordinances.

Mark Newbold, the attorney for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said out-of-town officers received about 2.5 hours of special training for the convention, including 20 minutes on the city’s extraordinary event ordinances.

Michael Zytkow, an activist with Occupy Charlotte, was arrested after he spoke beyond his allotted 3 minutes during the meeting where the ordinances were approved. The misdemeanor charge against him was later dropped.

He said he tried to test the new rules at one of the shareholder meetings by wheeling a large cooler filled with water bottles down the sidewalk. He said the police left him alone.

“I think this is an attempt to vilify protesters,” he said of the ordinances. “I think it’s an attempt to prevent us from coming out and joining and expressing our rights to march on the street and express our grievances.”

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Obama takes battleground state tour on way to Democratic convention

(AP Photo)

President Barack Obama is embarking on a four-day march through battleground states and the storm-battered Gulf Coast in the lead-up to his party’s convention as he seeks to blunt any momentum picked up by Republican rival Mitt Romney.

As his party’s faithful began streaming to Charlotte, N.C. for next week’s convention, Obama was returning to Iowa on Saturday. For his part, Romney looked to capitalize on a newly energized Republican Party fresh from its convention in Tampa, Fla., with a rally in Cincinnati before joining running mate Paul Ryan later in the day in Jacksonville, Fla.

Both campaigns were crisscrossing the country as the race entered September, each day adding to the sense of urgency in a presidential contest that has remained tight since Romney sewed up the nomination in April. Both campaigns recognize that undecided elements of the electorate, including those in about eight key states, will begin to fully assess their options through the conventions and the upcoming debates in the weeks ahead.

“Hold us accountable. Listen to what we have to say,” Romney said in a post-convention rally in Lakeland, Fla., on Friday. “I plan on winning in Florida. We love this country and we’re taking it back.”

Obama’s run-up to the convention will take him through the battleground states of Iowa, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia, four states that he carried in 2008 but remain at the top of Romney’s wish list. He was spending Saturday in suburban Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa, before heading to Colorado for a Sunday event with college students at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The Democratic Party’s convention, which starts Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., will focus more on where voters want their lives to be in the next four years. Obama inherited an economy grappling with a sweeping recession and the pace of the sluggish recovery has become one of Obama’s greatest impediments to re-election.

The coming days, capped by Obama’s speech on Thursday night, will crystalize his re-election pitch: an economy built on ending tax cuts for the rich and putting more effort into education, energy, tax reform and debt reduction. He will call Romney a peddler of failed trickle-down ideas that will hurt the middle class and the needy.

Previewing the convention, Obama campaign aide Stephanie Cutter said the Charlotte gathering wouldn’t be about rallying the base or leveling “petty attacks” but would instead focus on “what we need to do with the country to move us forward, not back.”

“We don’t need to reintroduce the president or reinvent him, as in the case with Mitt Romney,” she said. “Instead, our convention will tell the story of the last four years, how the president made some tough choices to help a country and the economy recover.”

Both sides hope to convey the aura of leadership.

Romney made a quick detour to rain-soaked Louisiana on Friday while Obama joined soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, to remind the nation that he ended the war in Iraq. Obama was scheduled to travel to Louisiana on Monday to inspect flood damage in a storm that marked the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

Romney was capping his convention week in Ohio and Florida, the two most prominent states that remain up for grabs. The former Massachusetts governor’s team said the Tampa, Fla., convention helped him present a clear contrast with Obama and showcase him as a viable alternative to the president on handling the economy.

“What Americans have seen over the last few days is a party and a Republican ticket absolutely committed to addressing the job crisis,” said Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. “You won’t hear it from the Democrats in Charlotte next week. People have seen a diverse group of individuals who believe very deeply in the American free enterprise system. It’s very different than the negative characterization the Democrats are trying to paint of this convention.”

Television ratings for the final night of the Republican convention were down compared with four years ago. The Nielsen Co. said an estimated 30.3 million viewers watched Thursday night’s coverage over 11 networks compared with more than 40 million over seven networks when John McCain delivered his acceptance speech in 2008.

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Hunt reported from Cincinnati. Associated Press writer Beth Fouhy in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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Romney’s theme: ‘Time to turn the page’

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Lifted by a show of Republican unity that once seemed so distant, Mitt Romney plunged into the presidential campaign’s final 67 days focused more than ever on jobs and the economy, and depicting President Barack Obama as a well-meaning but inept man who must be replaced.

“America has been patient,” he told the nation. “Americans have supported this president in good faith. But today, the time has come to turn the page.”

Obama, who will hold his own convention next week, served notice that he will use his powers of incumbency to make Romney’s mission hard. Obama planned to visit a Texas military base exactly two years after declaring the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, the war that haunts the last Republican president. This, as Democrats prepare to gather in Charlotte, N.C., for Obama’s convention.

Romney capped a high-energy night closing the Republican National Convention with a spirited and unusually personal speech infused with his family life, touching on his Mormon faith and recounting his youth. The cheers were loud and frequent, surely music to the ears of a candidate who struggled throughout the bruising primary season and beyond to bury doubts among many in his party that he was the authentic conservative in the field.

“Now is the time to restore the promise of America,” Romney declared to a nation struggling with unemployment and the slowest economic recovery in decades.

Polls suggest a to-the-wire campaign finish. The two men will spend the next 10 weeks in a handful of competitive states, none more important than Florida and Ohio, and meet in one-on-one debates where the stakes could hardly be any higher.

The campaign themes are mostly set. Romney depicts the president as a once-inspiring but disappointing figure who doesn’t understand job-creation or ordinary Americans’ frustrations. Democrats portray Romney as a man shifting ever rightward in the absence of core convictions, and a wealthy plutocrat who can’t relate to the middle class.

Hanging over the campaign is a big number: the nation’s 8.3 percent unemployment rate. It is Obama’s biggest impediment to a second term. Republicans seem to be banking on the notion that it will bring Obama down if Romney simply presents himself as a competent alternative.

Strikingly absent from Romney’s campaign, including the three-day convention in Tampa, were detailed explanations of how he would tame deficit spending while also cutting taxes and expanding the armed forces. He seems to be asking voters to trust his ability to create jobs and to make tough, unpopular decisions later.

Romney used his biggest moment yet in the spotlight, Thursday’s televised acceptance speech, to put a softer glow on his business record and to make short work of a conservative checklist that is now less important as he pursues swing voters.

He briefly hailed “the sanctity of life,” but did not mention “abortion,” illegal immigration, or even Ronald Reagan by his first name.

Romney’s speech also omitted many of the sharp barbs that he and his allies often throw at Obama.

“I wish President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed,” Romney said. “But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. … We deserve better.”

He repeated his claim that Obama can’t lead America out its economic doldrums because he has no business background.

“Jobs to him are about government,” Romney said.

The relatively toned-down rhetoric was a shift from Romney’s taunt, only two weeks ago, of “Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago.”

Thursday’s gentler tone by Romney might simply be a nod to reality. Polls repeatedly find that voters find Obama more likable than Romney. Romney’s convention message was: It’s OK to like Obama even as you fire him.

Of course other top Republicans, and Romney himself, might revert to ripping into Obama, especially if they don’t see polls moving in Romney’s direction soon in the 10 or so states up for grabs.

Democrats hope their convention in Charlotte will, at a minimum, neutralize any GOP bounce out of Tampa.

Obama seemed equally willing to avoid bombastic rhetoric for a while. He told Time magazine he hoped his re-election would help end the political stalemate in Washington, much like “popping a blister.”

The president also said he wants to do a better job of explaining how his policies will help boost the economy.

Obama planned to campaign this weekend in Ohio, Colorado and Iowa.

Romney planned to campaign Friday in Virginia, Saturday in Ohio and both days in Florida before taking a couple of days to rest while Democrats start their quadrennial show in Charlotte.

Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008, and scheduled his 2012 convention there in hopes of repeating the unexpected feat. Romney’s path to victory is severely complicated unless he puts the state back in the GOP column.

Like any presidential challenger, Romney must do two things: Make voters willing to oust the incumbent, and make himself an acceptable replacement.

In Thursday’s address, Romney seemed to assume Americans have already cleared the first hurdle, weary of high unemployment.

“What America needs is jobs, lots of jobs,” Romney said. “To the majority of Americans who now believe that the future will not be better than the past, I can guarantee you this: if Barack Obama is re-elected, you will be right.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama’s visit to Fort Bliss on Friday will highlight administration efforts to support U.S. service members and their families, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those efforts include attempts to combat what Carney called “unseen wounds” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Romney avoided the topic of terrorism and wars in Islamic countries, which bedeviled President George W. Bush’s final years and helped launch Obama’s career. In his big speech Thursday, Romney did not mention Iraq, Afghanistan or terrorism.

Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt, Steve Peoples, Philip Elliott, Beth Fouhy, Thomas Beaumont and Julie Mazziotta in Tampa and Jennifer Agiesta and Cal Woodward in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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Mitt Romney’s big night: Can he deliver?

GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Mitt Romney is stepping up for the most important speech of his Republican presidential campaign, to an audience of millions, after a rousing warm-up from a running mate who vowed the days of dodging painful budget choices will end if voters toss President Barack Obama from office.

Having grasped the nomination on his second try, after years spent cultivating this moment, Romney will use his speech Thursday night to introduce himself to a large portion of voters and claw for advantage in a race that could scarcely be any closer. As part of that introduction, Romney appeared prepared to discuss his Mormon faith in more direct terms than usual, a direction signaled by running mate Paul Ryan on Wednesday night in several allusions to the duo’s differing religions but “same moral creed.”

The Wisconsin congressman, a deficit hawk who’s become the party’s darling since joining the ticket, offered a prime-time testimonial setting up Romney’s turn on the stage in the Republican National Convention‘s finale. If history is a guide, viewership of Romney’s speech — and Obama’s address to his Democratic convention next week — will be surpassed only by the audience for their coming debates.

The Republican convention’s most rah-rah moments were unfolding as Hurricane Isaac, down to a tropical storm, inflicted floodwaters and misery in rural stretches of nearby Gulf states. The slowly unfolding calamity went unmentioned by most key speakers Wednesday night, although a few asked for Red Cross donations to the victims and offered prayers. The GOP had cut the convention’s opening day in fear Isaac would strike Tampa, which was spared.

Not that Obama set politicking aside, either, even as he tended to emergency management. Locked in an unpredictable race that shows no clear advantage for either man, Obama implored young people in a crowd of 7,500 in Charlottesville, Va., home to the University of Virginia, to register, vote and make sure their friends do as well. “I need you,” he said. “America needs you to close the gap between what is and what might be.”

Ryan, 42, came on board the campaign for the White House with a reputation in Washington for taking on the sacred cows in government spending, Medicare prime among them, and he’s generated plenty of excitement among conservatives who have never been fully convinced that Romney is one of them. “I think he’s a rock star for the Republicans,” Allie Burgin, a delegate from Wynnewood, Okla., said before the speech. And that’s how he was received on the stage.

“The present administration has made its choices,” Ryan said, “and Mitt Romney and I have made ours. Before the math and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this nation’s economic problems. And I’m going to level with you: We don’t have much time.”

He 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. “It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new. Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed.”

Ryan misrepresented Obama’s record at times — and seemed to forget his own.

He 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, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.”

In fact, Ryan himself incorporated the same 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. The cuts do not affect Medicare recipients directly, but rather reduce payments to hospitals, health insurance plans and other service providers.

Moreover, Ryan’s own plan to remake Medicare would squeeze the program’s spending even more than the changes Obama made.

Ryan promised, “We will not duck the tough issues; we will lead.” But Romney has yet to flesh out those fiscal choices.

He’s promised big increases in military spending and the restoration of more than $700 billion in Medicare cuts, along with lower taxes, without detailing how he would make good on his pledge to cut $500 billion a year from the federal budget. That goal is only realistic if budget cutters dive into the massive entitlements of Social Security and Medicare and if Congress can be persuaded to slice deeply into areas of spending such as health research, transportation, homeland security and aid to the poor.

In a letter sent Thursday morning to potential Democratic donors, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said the Ryan speech “represents a huge bet by the Romney campaign — they’ve decided that facts, truth and reality will not be a brake on their campaign message.”

In remarks to the American Legion in Indianapolis, Romney reaffirmed his intention to expand the armed forces and roll back “reckless defense cuts” that will begin automatically in January if Congress does not act to stop them. “There are plenty of places to cut in a federal budget that now totals over $3 trillion, but defense is not one of them,” he said. Left unstated was that his running mate voted to approve the legislation that authorized those cuts alongside reductions in domestic spending.

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said days earlier that the nominee would discuss his Mormon religion in his convention address as part of “what’s informed his values.” Ryan, a Roman Catholic, took up the matter conspicuously, and no doubt as part of the convention’s carefully crafted message.

“Mitt and I also go to different churches,” he said. “But in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example. And I’ve been watching that example. The man who will accept your nomination tomorrow is prayerful and faithful and honorable. Not only a defender of marriage, he offers an example of marriage at its best. Not only a fine businessman, he’s a fine man, worthy of leading this optimistic and good-hearted country.”

And again: “Our different faiths come together in the same moral creed. We believe that in every life there is goodness; for every person, there is hope. Each one of us was made for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of the Lord of Life.”

Former pastor Mike Huckabee, in his speech earlier, also delved into the subject, saying, “I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country.”

Delegates cheered a parade of party leaders past, present and — possibly — future.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the man who defeated Romney for the 2008 nomination only to lose the election to Obama, spoke on his 76th birthday and said he wished he’d been there under different circumstances. And an array of ambitious younger elected officials, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John Thune of South Dakota among them, preceded Ryan to the podium.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the Republican ticket in a speech that made no overt mention of Obama. “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will rebuild us at home and inspire us to lead abroad. They will provide an answer to the question, ‘Where does America stand?'”

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Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in Indianapolis, Julie Pace in Charlottesville, Va., Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington and Philip Elliott, Beth Fouhy, Tamara Lush and Elizabeth Bunn in Tampa contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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Tea Party leaves its mark on GOP convention

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

There’s a marriage of convenience at the Republican National Convention this week.

Mitt Romney needs the tea party’s vigor to ensure the GOP’s conservative base is fired up and works on his behalf this fall. The three-year-old tea party movement needs the Republican Party and its new standard-bearer to champion its causes and get its agenda enacted. And the two sides have never had much affinity for the other.

Yet, the tea party has left a solid imprint on its first GOP presidential convention, from the speeches to the platform to the displays of deep opposition to President Barack Obama. With this backdrop, Romney — hardly the first choice of this group of insurgents — will accept the nomination Thursday.

“They’ve been very successful in leaving their mark at this convention,” said Republican National Committee Vice Chairman Jim Bopp of Indiana. “They are a vital part of our coalition.”

But Romney and the tea party have a difficult past.

The former Massachusetts governor, whose signature accomplishment was passage of a state health care overhaul that Obama’s was modeled after and that the tea party despises, never warmed to the insurgent activists and resisted a full embrace of them.

As the GOP looked for a presidential candidate, the tea party rallied behind just about everyone for at least a time, from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann to Georgia businessman Herman Cain to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

It’s safe to say the tea party was, at best, resigned to Romney as its nominee when it got a welcome boost as the candidate chose Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — a favorite among this group — as his running mate.

The tea party is more influential within the Republican Party than within the overall voter population.

According to a recent Associated Press-GfK poll, 48 percent of Republicans considered themselves supporters of the tea party movement. However, only 29 percent of all registered voters considered themselves tea party supporters, and less than 10 percent said they strongly support the movement.

If they turn out in force, these voters could be influential in competitive states such as Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, where some conservatives have had misgivings about whether Romney is conservative enough.

With Ryan on the ticket, there was something for them — and their preferred politicians — to celebrate this week in Tampa.

“This national movement is fueled by what unites us: a love of liberty, a belief in the unlimited potential of free men and women,” Ted Cruz, a tea party-backed U.S. Senate candidate from Texas, declared from the podium this week, igniting cheers from inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

While not everyone made such direct overtures to the tea party, its rhetoric of uncompromising spending cuts, strict constitutional adherence and limited government dotted speeches from the GOP’s rising stars to the graybeards.

In attendance are some of the movement’s heroes, including New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Another favorite, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, was greeted with cheers of “Liberty!” when he stepped to the podium Wednesday.

“We have nothing to fear except our own unwillingness to defend what is naturally ours, our God-given rights,” Paul said during his speech to the convention, prompting a renewed roar.

The insurgents’ imprint went beyond the rhetoric.

Tea party activists also won changes to the Republican Party’s platform, including nearly a dozen fiscal positions, such as studying returning the United States to the gold standard and requiring a two-thirds majority in Congress to pass a tax increase.

But there was tension behind the scenes when party officials sought to weaken tea party influence.

First, the RNC’s rules committee voted that it could change the party rules in the middle of the four-year cycle — instead of every four years, as has been the practice. This is a particularly sensitive point with the tea party’s rule sticklers.

Another new rule was aimed at limiting the ability of insurgent presidential candidates to amass delegates to future Republican conventions. They require states to award delegates to candidates based on the outcome of primaries and caucuses.

The new rules originally allowed the likely presidential nominee to choose which delegates would represent them at the convention — taking that power from state parties, which prompted sharp opposition from tea party activists. In a concession, party leaders agreed to remove the language, instead saying delegates who support candidates other than the one they are obligated to support shall have their votes nullified.

The change appeased some state party activists who didn’t like the idea of candidates mandating which delegates could attend the national convention. But it didn’t satisfy supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul or many tea party activists.

“Most of the tea party activists are really unhappy about this,” said Oregon delegate Russ Walker. “We feel it’s kind of cast a black cloud over the success we had with the platform.”

The tea party can be traced to 2008, when voters started protesting spending.

The group broke through nationally in 2009 as opponents to federal legislation expanding access to health care, and then fueled a wave that carried Republicans to enough victories in the House for control.

Now, many tea partiers say the GOP owes them.

“It would have been nice to see some more of a tea-party presence,” said Nevada Republican James Smack. “We can’t win without them.”

Associated Press writer Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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GOP Convention finally hits its stride

Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Republican National Convention is finally in full-throated roar, cheering presidential nominee Mitt Romney‘s name at every turn in a long-sought show of unity and mocking the man he is out to defeat in November.

A soft-sided portrayal of the Republican candidate as husband and father, painted by his wife on the stage in a direct appeal to women, combined with a parade of gleeful Obama-bashers Tuesday as the GOP seized its moment after days of worry about the hurricane that simultaneously roared ashore in Louisiana — well out of sight of the gathering, and mostly out of mind for the night.

The convention’s keynote speaker, the unpredictable New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, issued a broad indictment of Democrats as “disciples of yesterday’s politics” who “whistle a happy tune” while taking the country off a fiscal cliff.

“It’s time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House,” he said. “Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good-paying private-sector jobs again in America.”

Romney made his debut at the convention two days before his own speech, rousing the crowd into cheers as he took the stage briefly to share a kiss with his wife after she spoke. Ann Romney‘s prime-time speech was in large measure an outreach to female voters as she declared her husband “will not let us down” if elected president.

Her tone was intimate as she spoke about the struggles of working families: “If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It’s how it is, isn’t it? It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right.”

Mrs. Romney’s mission was clear. For all the hundreds of speeches he’s given and the years he’s spent reaching this moment, Romney remains largely inscrutable, a man in a business suit whose core remains a mystery to most of the nation. And he consistently lags behind President Barack Obama among women in polls.

Republicans have a little more than two months to change that and build upon his greatest perceived strength, as an economic fixer, in an election that by all indications is tight.

Elbowing in on the Republican’s big week, Obama summoned a large campaign crowd of his own, 13,000 on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., and tried to convert their boos for the Republicans into Election Day results for him. “Don’t boo, vote,” Obama said when his reference to the GOP agenda brought derision from the crowd. “That’s the best response. Vote and get some of your friends to vote.”

Despite the respite from the preoccupation with Isaac, the storm continues to cast uncertainty into a convention that scrubbed the first day of events out of fear it would swipe Tampa, which it didn’t. Any scenes of destruction along the Gulf Coast were sure to temper the celebratory tone, and further compression of the schedule was possible if the storm proved disastrous, making politicking unseemly.

The list of speakers is to be topped Wednesday night by Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, before the candidate himself speaks Thursday night to bring down the curtain-closing balloons. Obama’s Democratic National Convention follows next week in Charlotte, N.C.

Republicans uncorked the anti-Obama rhetoric from the outset Tuesday. The Democratic president has “never run a company,” declared Reince Priebus, the Republican chairman. “He hasn’t even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand.” House Speaker John Boehner spoke of an America with “no government there to hold your hand. Just a dream and the desire to do better. President Obama doesn’t get this. He can’t fix the economy because he doesn’t know how it was built.”

Romney was affirmed as the nominee in a suspenseless roll call of state delegations. He received 2,061 votes to 190 for his nearest roll-call rival, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a preordained victory sealed months ago when the former Massachusetts governor prevailed in a bruising series of primaries and caucuses. Rick Santorum, his most serious competitor at the height of the primary season, closed ranks Tuesday night, at least to a point. He slammed Obama for turning the American dream of freedom into a “nightmare of dependency” in a speech focused on welfare reform and mentioning Romney only at the end.

Paul, the iconoclastic libertarian who has a passionate following but never won a primary race, did not go so quietly, or at least his supporters didn’t. They chanted and booed after the convention adopted rules they opposed but were powerless to block. “Shame on you,” some of his supporters chanted from the floor.

Paul stopped short of a full endorsement of Romney and did not get a speaking slot. But his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a tea party favorite, will address the convention Wednesday night.

Romney’s nomination followed ratification of a party platform thoroughly shaped by conservatives and further to the right on abortion than the candidate himself. Nothing binds Romney to the document and presidents typically pay platforms little heed in office, except for the parts that echo their own agenda.

Obama campaigned in Iowa as well as Colorado on Tuesday as he set out on a campus tour in battleground states in hopes of boosting voter registration among college students.

Before departing the White House, he made a point of appearing before reporters to announce the government’s latest steps to help those in the way of Isaac. He signed a declaration of emergency for Mississippi and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local storm response efforts in the state.

His allies did their best to counter Romney and the Republicans.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, dismissing GOP attempts to woo Hispanic voters, said, “You can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate.” He added, “This is a party with a platform that calls for the self-deportation of 11 million people.”

Hispanics strongly favor Obama, according to public polls, and Romney and his party have been seeking to win a bigger share of their votes by emphasizing proposals to fix the economy rather than ease their positions on immigration.

Polls find the economy is overwhelmingly the dominant issue in the race and voters narrowly favor Romney to handle it. In an AP-GfK poll taken Aug. 16-20, some 48 percent of registered voters said they trust Romney more on economic issues, to 44 percent for Obama. However, a Washington Post-ABC News in the days immediately before the convention found that 61 percent of registered voters said Obama was more likable, while 27 percent said Romney.

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Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Brian Bakst, Thomas Beaumont, Tamara Lush, Brendan Farrington, Julie Mazziotta, Steve Peoples, Kasie Hunt and Philip Elliott in Florida and Stephen Ohlemacher, Alicia A. Caldwell and Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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