One Big Happy Party That's All Wet

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By Ramesh Ponnuru and Margaret Carlson

This is the first of a series of reports from Ramesh Ponnuru and Margaret Carlson from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Ramesh: Every Republican convention I’ve attended has had an optimistic mood. Even in 1996 and 2008, when Republicans didn’t really have a chance, veep picks that excited the conservative base had the delegates and party operatives cheerful.

This time, the optimism has a solid foundation. Yes, President Barack Obama is ahead in most polls -- both nationally and in swing states -- but he is under 50 percent in almost all of those polls. While his campaign has been effective at convincing the news media that he is the favorite in November, its strategic options are few. Obama cannot run a feel-good campaign like the incumbents of 1984 and 1996, because Americans are in too sour a mood, and he can’t run on his legislative accomplishments, because Obamacare and the stimulus are too unpopular.

What he can do is try to tear down Mitt Romney. The trouble with this strategy is that it underestimates the public. Nobody is going to vote against Romney because he hasn’t released more tax returns, and Americans aren’t going to be convinced that he is a reckless anti-abortion zealot.

The Democratic base vote in presidential elections has grown over the last decade or so, and it may be a close race as a result. Romney is, however, well-positioned to come out ahead. Whether or not he gets a convention bounce, and whatever the weather this week, the Republicans in Tampa have reasons to hope for change.

(Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

Margaret: You call Republicans optimistic. I call them cheerful. It's what I've always liked about your party.

Even in wind and rain, Republicans are upbeat. Of course, they come prepared. I know they're not global-warming-is-here kind of people, but judging by the amount of foul weather gear I'm seeing, this convention will account for a boost in Patagonia's third-quarter earnings.

God forbid a hurricane should threaten Charlotte, North Carolina. Democrats are inclined to believe the sky is falling but are not inclined to be prepared for it. If there is inclement weather next week, I expect to see a lot of cheap ponchos with flimsy umbrellas turned inside out.

Still, Isaac should be worrisome to Republicans. Half of the stories out of Tampa on Monday were about whether Romney will be able to show his human side. The other half were about whether he'll be able to show his superhuman side and control the weather.

Here's the split screen that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dreads: Romney speaking from the podium about his charmed life as thousands of colorful balloons drop, while Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gives an interview from a  New Orleans levee in a crippling storm. Instead of being the first week of the rest of Romney's campaign, it will become the seventh anniversary of Katrina.

As I write this, the sun is peeking through. The power of positive thinking. Republicans should beam it across the Gulf.

(Margaret Carlson is a columnist for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)

-0- Aug/27/2012 21:12 GMT