TAMPA — Political optimism defied gloomy skies as Republicans prepared to hand Mitt Romney his slightly delayed presidential nomination.
As the gavel fell on perhaps the shortest national convention session in history, GOP officials across the city talked up their chances of electing their new ticket along with the congressional hopefuls further down the ballot.
House Speaker John Boehner, who months ago suggested that his new majority could be in jeopardy in November, insisted that rather than being forced to defend their House control, Republicans would be on offense across the country.
In a separate appearance, Karl Rove, the architect of the last winning presidential re-election campaign, predicted that the presidential race was Mr. Romney's to lose despite his current polling deficits in some key battleground states.
Said Mr. Boehner, "We're in a strong position to keep our majority and frankly expand it. Many of our incumbents are in better shape than I would have guessed. … We're on offense and I'm going to keep our team on offense throughout the election.''
Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Mr. Rove argued that 1980, when Ronald Reagan made Jimmy Carter a one-term president, offered the closest recent historical analogy to this year's contest.
"You can make a case that this could be like 1980 … [with] an incumbent challenged by circumstances and policies.''
He noted that at the equivalent point in that contest, Mr. Carter was ahead of the Republican challenger, who would win in a landslide.
While polls continue to find President Obama with narrow leads in most battleground states, Mr. Rove argued at a morning briefing hosted by Politico that the fact that the President's leads collectively trail his winning margins in 2008 points to the incumbent's vulnerability.
Asked to list other battleground states at the top of the GOP opportunities, he cited Wisconsin, the home of Mr. Romney's running-mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, and Ohio. He also said that Florida was ripe for the GOP. He cited Pennsylvania as an opportunity, but placed it his target roster.
At least for now, that assessment of Pennsylvania is belied by the actions of the two campaigns. While the two standard bearers have stumped in the state, neither is currently spending money on television there. And the Obama campaign was quick to point to an NBC report that Americans for Prosperity, the major GOP super PAC, appeared to have suspended its ad buys in the state.
Two statewide polls in recent days have found Mr. Obama with a 9-point lead in Pennsylvania, but Rob Gleason, the state Republican chairman, insisted Monday afternoon that his state remained in play.
‘‘We're in the game no matter what the polls say," Mr. Gleason said.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Mr. Romney's last real, if distant, rival for the GOP nomination was also slated to speak today, in a more prominent evening slot, but not one that will be part of the one hour of prime-time exposure that the major broadcast networks are devoting to the session.
The twin highlights of the 10-to-11-p.m. session will be New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the convention keynote speaker, and Ann Romney. Their two speeches are expected to display very different tones and aims.
The feisty Mr. Christie is poised to unleash an aggressive attack on President Obama's record. Mrs. Romney's role, on the other hand, is seen as opening the effort to reintroduce her husband to a wider audience with a portrayal of a human side to a candidate who has often been depicted, by Republican rivals as well as Democrats, as a cold, unfeeling businesman.
"The key thing for Mitt Romney, at the end of this convention, is that people say, ‘I know something about him personally that I didn't know about him beforehand ... the personal side,'' Mr. Rove said.
Mr. Bohener offered a similar assessment.
"You can't really properly introduce yourself in the middle of a Republican primary [when] your opponents are tearing you apart,'' he said. "This is his opportunity to reintroduce himself to the American people.''
As Tropical Storm Isaac largely bypassed Tampa, the schedule of speakers seemed more secure.
In the latest of what has become a regular series of briefings mixing meteorology with politics, Russ Schriefer, Mr. Romney's lead convention strategist, said that the organizers were confident the convention wold be able to go ahead on its abbreviated three-day schedule, although he acknowledged that the storm's continuing threat to the Gulf Coast could still force some adjustments.
Instead of the full session Monday that had been programmed as a day when Mr. Romney would be formally nominated by the delegates, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called the convention to order in midafternoon in a hall filled with empty seats.
He then almost immediately recessed the long-planned session until today, hoping that the storm that spared the convention site would not produce damage elsewhere that would lure the national focus away from the Republicans.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O'Toole is politics editor at the Post-Gazette.
Contact James O'Toole at: email@example.com, or 412-263-1562.
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