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Looking forward from Tampa and Charlotte


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thursday night closed this reporter’s two weeks of ???conventioneering??? — from covering the Republicans in Tampa, Fla. nominating Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to the Democrats here renominating Barack Obama and Joe Biden. As one who has covered Republican conventions since 1980 and Democratic conventions since ???88, here are a few observations.

In all likelihood, Tampa and Charlotte are going to be the last two conventions in the style that we have grown familiar with. Future conventions will be shorter — certainly three days and possibly two. With gavel-to-gavel coverage now only done by cable networks and the ???Big Three??? networks only beginning broadcast coverage at 10 p.m., the national party conclaves are likely to adapt to this truncated reporting.

Conventions don???t decide nominations. That is done months prior when the primary season is over. The only suspense at the Republican convention was the furor over the new rule permitting the party to revisit and rewrite its rules before 2016. The lone moment of suspense at the Democratic convention was the failure of the Platform Committee to include a call for recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel and removal of the word ???God??? — and the clumsy rush of Democrats to restore both the next day.

No one in Charlotte has figured out who let those omissions occur in the first place! And no one wants to take the blame.

It was quite obvious from my time on the floor that there is a major cultural divide between those active in the two major parties. As a colleague from Europe who covered both conventions told me, ???These are two Americas.???

Certainly, the platforms reflect the differences between the parties. The Republican manifesto is a conservative document and has been so for many years. It has a strong emphasis on growth, on smaller government, and includes strong pro-life and pro-marriage language. In sharp contrast, the Democratic platform makes ringing endorsements of Obamacare, the stimulus package, a ???woman???s right to choose,??? and — for the first time — same sex marriage.

What this means in terms of the coming campaigns is that the Romney and Obama teams will be working overtime to energize their respective bases and turn out their votes. On the stump, each candidate and his surrogates will surely sound as combative and ideological as they did on the convention platforms in Tampa and Charlotte.

The ???great displaced middle,??? to use a phrase of columnist Kathleen Parker, will be won over in large part through the four scheduled televised debates — three between Obama and Romney and one between vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. One can look forward to a rich debate on two different agendas for the economy, with each candidate trying to sound non-ideological but not enough to alienate their respective bases. One can expect the president to talk about how the auto industry is saved, the economy is coming back, and millions of Americans are getting health benefits they would not have had without him. Romney will respond that ???we deserve better??? and spell out how he plans to jump-start the private sector to let it create jobs.

Watch for both to tone down the responses on social issues. And expect that President Obama will make a spirited assault on the prospect of Romney as commander-in-chief. As he did in Charlotte, Obama will make an issue of what he called Romney???s ???blustering and blundering??? in foreign policy, and using the rhetoric of ???another era.??? Romney will respond by saying many allies have less confidence in America since Obama became president and he will restore it. Keep an eye on the Republican hitting hard at Russia???s President Putin and the Chinese leadership over trade issues.

As to what the outcome will be, this reporter will only say that the race will be very close. And he???s looking forward to covering it.