TAMPA — In an email to supporters Thursday advertising a contest offering a lucky donor the chance to watch his Tampa speech in person, Mitt Romney laid out the stakes for the Republican convention as clearly as anyone could.
“It’s time to put an end to President Obama’s campaign of frustration and division by coming together as a unified party,” Romney wrote.
Unfortunately for the man who’s just days from finally sealing the deal and becoming the Republican presidential nominee, the Republican Party’s frayed edges are on full display here even as delegates wait for the actual convention to start.
The come-together moment follows a week that ripped open the wounds of the Republican primary that were supposed to be fully healed in time for Romney’s big party.
Just eight days ago, Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri, derailed Romney’s focus on Medicare and welfare with his comments about “legitimate rape” and female biology.
The week of ensuing fallout have made it more difficult for Romney to use the convention to reset the race with a unified GOP behind him. Instead, it has inflamed existing party rifts on social issues, immigration and Akin himself.
What’s more, the swathes of the GOP base that are still not wary of Romney are making their presence known here at the epicenter of Romney’s plan to reinvigorate his campaign for the homestretch to November.
• On Sunday, Ron Paul rallied his supporters at an event held outside the official convention site, two days before the delayed RNC is set to get under way. Reports from the event indicated Paul supporters were upset that the GOP is still keeping Paul at arm’s length, despite a plan to highlight Paul’s legacy with a tribute video in primetime.
Paul said Saturday he’s not completely ready to unify his end of the GOP with Romney.
“I don’t fully endorse him for president,” Paul said.
• Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the highest-profile Republican still on Akin’s side, is scheduled to get a big primetime speech after the RNC schedule was revised by the weather system known as Isaac.
Huckabee’s amped up his criticism of the GOP for abandoning Akin in recent days, but it’s not clear whether he’ll put those grievances aside during the speech. The Romney campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment Sunday night, but regardless of what Huckabee says, his presence will be a reminder that Romney (and the rest of the establishment GOP) so far hasn’t been able to force Akin out of the Missouri Senate race.
Republicans even chose to highlight Huckabee after the Isaac shake-up gave them an out — he was scheduled to address the convention Monday, the night that was scrapped because of the storm. But Huckabee was re-shuffled and will still speak to the party.
Democrats are already taking advantage of the Akin divide in the GOP, needling Romney again over Akin on Friday when they publicly called on him to drop Huckabee from the convention lineup.
The Akin effect also shined new light on the GOP platform, which once again calls for a ban on all abortion and has no mention of any exceptions. Akin forced Romney to put distance between himself and the conservative pro-life side of his party by reaffirming that he favors abortion rights for victims of rape and incest, and when the health of the mother is at stake. The GOP platform — challenged by more moderate voices within the party after Akin — showcased Romney’s lack of unity with his own running mate when it comes to abortion.
“I’ve always adopted the idea, the position, that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life,” Ryan said Wednesday, affirming his opposition to any exceptions to an abortion ban. He said that Romney’s view, not his, would be the land of the law in a Romney-Ryan administration, but Ryan’s position separates him from most of the American public, who polls show favor abortion rights in at least certain cases.
• The platform fight showed more divides in the GOP on immigration. Romney’s conservative stance on immigration, advocates say, left him way down in the polls with Hispanic voters and GOP is making a concerted effort to close that gap by featuring its most prominent Hispanic faces in primetime. But the GOP platform includes language written by Arizona immigration law author Kris Kobach, despite a push from some like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to distance the party from its own anti-immigration wing. In Florida, where the Hispanic vote will be extremely important, the schisms within the GOP over immigration will be on full display.
The idea of party unity is all-important for Romney, who needs the convention to provide sustainable momentum that will last through Obama’s convention, which begins a few days later. Republican leaders are convinced that despite the past week, Tampa will give Romney what he needs.
“I think we are going to get a bump,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Saturday. “I can’t give you a scope, but I can tell you I think it’s going to be real and it’s going to be visible, but I don’t know what it will end up being.”