TAMPA, Fla. — Standing on the bustling convention floor hours before Mitt Romney made his acceptance speech, Scott Thomas, a 22-year-old delegate from Pottsville, said he wanted to hear Romney lay out the clear differences between a Romney presidency and President Barack Obama’s time in office, knowing he could use that when talking to disaffected voters in Pennsylvania.
Relaxing midmorning in the Pennsylvania delegation lounge, Bernadette Comfort, 44, of Indiana County, said when she returns home she’d tell women about a breakfast she attended with Ann Romney where a video introduction by Mitt Romney, the typically stoic businessman, made clear how much he loves his wife.
And Jim Zugay, 45, the Dauphin County recorder of deeds, will retell New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s tale of Romney’s natural ease with Christie’s young children whenever an undecided voter complains of Romney being unrelatable.
With Romney’s nomination sealed, Republican foot soldiers are dispatched to their home states armed with days of convention memories to market their presidential ticket.
“Go out and work hard,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum urged the state’s GOP delegates Thursday morning. “This is the most important election in the history of our country. I believe it. Big things are at stake.”
The clarion call is the only real lasting purpose of the national conventions. Like salesmen after a training seminar, the delegates now have the materials they need to make the sale.
After Romney’s speech, Thomas said Romney succeeded at drawing a clear distinction between candidate Obama and President Obama. “The theme of the night should have been then and now,” he said. He added, “I’m impressed.”
Romney made his case directly to 2008 Obama voters, saying in what may be his most memorable line of the night: “You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
For Pennsylvania’s GOP convention goers, the sales pitch is made that much more difficult by history: the reality that their state will be a tough get for Romney. That uphill climb was all the more apparent as each visiting speaker at their early-morning delegation breakfasts made note of the tough haul a Pennsylvania win would be, but urged the group to defy odds.
Santorum told them that he’s heard Pennsylvania referred to as “fool’s gold that Republicans always go after and can never reach in a presidential election.” But he told the Pennsylvanians at their final delegation breakfast that he is convinced this year it can be won.
That was echoed later by David James, the man running Romney’s campaign in Pennsylvania, who said winning the state is “absolutely doable.” Those who attended the convention need to return home ready to explain that “this is a ticket of serious substance,” he said.
That’s exactly what Zugay intends to say when confronted by neighbors or friends or co-workers on the fence about Romney, or uncomfortable with some of the massive changes Republicans have proposed for popular entitlement programs like Medicare.
“I think we sell it by saying, If you’re a parent you tell your child, ‘Don’t duck the tough choices, the tough courses, the tough road in life, you don’t duck those,’ ” Zugay said. “So, if you’re telling your child that, why would you as a parent do the exact opposite of what you’re trying to teach your child to do?”
Romney also gave the Republican faithful a little help in selling him as a real person when he teared up talking about his parents and their love. It’s exactly what Comfort said she was counting on Romney showing in his speech.
“He comes across in a comfortable way with those he loves, his family, but in terms of what we see in the public he’s a businessman, he’s serious, he’s concerned about the country,” she said earlier in the day. “I think tonight we’ll see Romney is a person.”
Even those Republicans who came to the convention lukewarm on Romney described a new motivation. Some were more excited about vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan than the top of the ticket, but excited nonetheless.
James Northrop, 21, a college student from Pittsburgh attending the convention as a guest of a delegate, was a Ron Paul supporter during the primary. While those in his peer group are expected to largely vote for Obama, Northrop said he feels ready to make the case for Romney.
“Well, the way that I always look at it is I can’t afford to graduate under an Obama economy and none of my friends can afford to graduate with Obama still in office,” Northrop said. “I’m trying to get people to understand that it’s in their own personal interest to have Romney as president because they’ll have better opportunities and a better life.”
It’s a sentiment in line with the image Ryan painted in his Wednesday night speech. He talked about college graduates in their childhood bedrooms staring at faded Obama posters, making tangible the joblessness fears among twenty-somethings.
Meanwhile Glenn Eckhart, 45, the Lehigh County controller from Salisbury Township, and delegate for the 15th district, supported nearly every other GOP primary candidate ahead of Romney. He said that as he arrived at the convention center for the last night of speeches he wasn’t looking for Romney to do anything in his speech other than “promise that he’s going to do the right thing for the long-term future of the United States.”
“We don’t need to be sold any more window curtains,” Eckhart said. “We need windows.”