The Republican National Convention wrapped up last week and the Democratic National Convention is well under way, but the outcome of the November election is far from certain. Competitive congressional races and candidates' desire to distance themselves from national party politics interfered with attendance at this year’s conventions, and some claim that the conventions have lost relevance in today's campaigns.
Do voters still care about the convention speeches? How will the conventions impact the race leading up to November? On September 5, Brookings expert Thomas Mann took your questions and comments in a live web chat moderated by Vivyan Tran of POLITICO.
12:30 Vivyan Tran: Welcome everyone, let's get started!
12:30 Comment From Anonymous: What was your overall impression of the Republican National Convention? Did Romney succeed in selling himself to voters?
12:33 Tom Mann: I thought the Republican Convention succeeded in framing the election as a referendum on Obama's management of the economy and in raising Romney's standing as a plausible alternative. Romney mainly reassured Republicans and Independents who were already disposed to vote against Obama. This did not lead to major headway in the horse race but modest improvement in other elements of the contest.
12:33 Comment From Alexandra: Even Fox News reported that Ryan's speech at the Republican Convention was full of flat-out lies. What does this say about the state of political discourse in America today - that a politician can make a prime time speech full of falsehoods?
12:36 Tom Mann: All conventions and campaigns play fast and loose with the truth, but I believe the Republicans have broken new ground in their scorn for facts and evidence that is not consistent with their ideological or strategic position. Factual errors are bad enough; more worrisome are absolute distortions of reality.
12:36 Comment From Eric, Fairfax: In your opinion, what's the most important thing for Democrats to accomplish this week in order to help Obama's campaign?
12:39 Tom Mann: The first is to reenergize the base in a way that increases turnout. The second is to frame the election as a choice between two vastly different sets of values and visions. The latter must include conveying a clear sense of what a second term for Obama would be about and how it might improve the life prospects of Americans. The former involves an aggressive defense of what has been accomplished in the first term.
12:40 Comment From David: What impact have you seen on Romney's campaign from his selection of Paul Ryan? Was that a good choice? How do you think he performed at the convention?
12:43 Tom Mann: Ryan has strengthened Romney's position with the Republican base and increased its enthusiasm for the ticket. It has also increased the ability of the Obama campaign to frame the election as a choice between a center-left, problem-solving approach to governing and a radical transformation of the role of government. That probably nets out to an advantage for Obama.
12:44 Comment From N. D.: What's the biggest challenge Obama needs to overcome in order to win this election? What do you think he'll be trying to prove at the convention?
12:47 Tom Mann: In spite of the difficult economic times, I think Obama now has a slight advantage in winning the election. Further bad economic news could change that. He needs to reassure discouraged but sympathetic voters that we are recovering from a very bad patch and he has plans that will lead us to a better future. He also has to keep the pressure on Romney and Republicans as favoring extreme measures that would shortchange the middle class.
12:47 Comment From Anonymous: In today's partisan political environment, what purpose to the conventions play within political parties? Are conventions serving mostly to unite the party or to define the party for those outside of it?
12:49 Tom Mann: The conventions continue to provide both parties an opportunity to define their candidates and construct their narratives about the election. This serves both to unite and mobilize their partisans and to try to appeal to the sliver of undecided voters. Of course, the reduced time on the national networks means these opportunities are limited.
12:50 Comment From Gail, Arlington: I'm interested to know your thoughts on the role that political spouses play at conventions. What are your thoughts on Ann Romney's speech v. Michelle Obama's? What were they trying to accomplish and did they succeed?
12:53 Tom Mann: But of their speeches were major events at the conventions. Ann Romney sought to humanize her husband and make him more acceptable to potential supporters. Michelle Obama's was a more ambitious effort to link her personal validation of her husband to the larger themes of his presidency and the campaign. Both appeared to be successful, but Michelle's may well go down as the best performance at either convention.
12:54 Comment From User in TX: How do you think the coverage has been of the Conventions this year? Media have obviously flocked to both, but have they been reporting on the important issues?
12:59 Tom Mann: The media is a dominant presence and force at the conventions. The corporate sponsorship of many of their activities in Tampa and Charlotte reflects the new business models being developed for media organizations. The best coverage remains the unmediated coverage of the podium, but their sampling and synthesis of the convention highlights is what will eventually reach the broadest audience. There is a lot of excessive and inconsequential reporting but also a treasure of interesting and important stories.
1:00 Comment From Ellie: In light of Clint Eastwood's bizarre speech, and the star-studded Democratic convention, do celebrity endorsements really matter at all, do they help?
1:01 Tom Mann: Not much. Useful for fundraising. But as we saw from Eastwood, they can get in the way of the convention planners' message operation and become the focus of unflattering stories.
1:02 Vivyan Tran: Thanks for the questions everyone, see you next week.