Here's one way to judge the relative success or failure of Monday night's two big featured speakers, Arizona Senator and former New York City Mayor - and have a little fun at home.
Try to picture yourself as an independent or swing voter in one of the nine electoral states that, according to the Republicans' calculus, matter most - Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Nevada - and ask yourself: Did the speakers and what they had to say move my vote? Did they move me even a little bit closer to in-the-Bush-column?
This is how White House political guru Karl Rove will be thinking about the speeches - and it is how he will deem whether the first night of the G.O.P. convention came off as planned.
Hot tip or just so much hot air?
Two individual Republican powers on separate occasions in the past 24 hours have said, on a "Don't quote me by name, but…" basis: "Keep your eyes and ears open for Mitt Romney's convention speech Wednesday night."
Romney is Governor of Massachusetts, generally described as a moderate Republican. He's also generally regarded as thirsting to run for president in 2008.
What, if anything, he might come forward with when he speaks to the Republican faithful here on Wednesday night is anybody's guess. When a reporter circulates among other Republicans asking, "What could it be, this 'Romney surprise'?" the most common response is: "Beats me."
Whatever it is, it "may be the surprise of the convention," one of the Republican honchos added.
Your reporter's own guesses? Maybe by "surprise" these honchos mean "revelation," as in: Wait 'til you see how good Romney is. Or maybe moderate Romney will "surprise" by throwing the Republican faithful an unexpectedly large dose of red meat, setting up nicely Democratic Georgia Senator Zell Miller's keynote-in-the-back as a one-two punch against Kerry.
What would Romney get out of this? Well, it might go a long way in helping Romney with money-raising for any future races he might undertake. Give him "street cred" with core conservatives, if you will.
Thin? And a stretch? Yup. You bet. As previously stated: Best of a bad lot of guesses.
None of this, of course, is news. It is part of what passes for conversation at what is so far an as predictable and scripted convention as was the Democrats' a month ago.
It is, in fact, eerily quiet here in New York's lower midtown. Gone - at least for now - are the mass protests of Sunday (which various estimates have pegged as including from 150,000 to 500,000 people). Monday, at least around the Convention site, dissenters were either of the lone, sign-holding variety, or in small pockets of twos and threes. Gone, too, is a lot of the traffic noise endemic to this part of the city, as a large perimeter around Madison Square Garden has been closed off to cars, cabs, and trucks. Very strange, for a New York resident, to hear so much…silence.
Meantime, inside the convention hall, the Republicans have taken steps to ensure that no awkward silences intrude. The solution? Convention Jockeys - like disc jockeys, but instead of spinning records (er, CDs) the five or so CJs working the floor spin stories about unique delegates from the various states represented here, for play up on the giant video screen over the convention stage. So far, "unique" has largely equaled…having some sort of military background.
As for news, though...nope, still not much to be found. So a newsman's thoughts are liable to turn to thoughts of…conventions future - and those in the GOP who may be dreaming about their chances in 2008, and beyond.
Well, the aforementioned Mitt Romney may well be one of them. Pool-shooters play for "shape," for advantage on shots ahead; politicians play for position, for advantage in future elections. And while we don't know what - if any - "surprise" Mitt Romney may have in store Wednesday night, we do know that there's plenty of speculation that he'll seek the presidency in 2008 - and, in that, he'd have plenty of company here in Madison Square Garden this week.
Those in that crowd, those who seem to be working to make the dream come true (whether they admit it or not) appear to be: Senator John McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, Senator (and former Virginia Governor) George Allen, New York Governor George Pataki, Tennessee Senator and Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (who is hankering to go back home and run for governor of Texas which, if successful, would do nothing but help her future presidential or vice presidential chances), Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Colorado Governor Bill Owens...and - oh, yes - Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
The president's brother won't be coming to the convention, too busy minding hurricanes and other matters at home, he says. But he sure can't be left off of any list of 2008 dreamers - and why should he be? Two-term governor of the mother of all swing states, a confident, good-looking, experienced, and confident, articulate campaigner with - how does one put it? High-name recognition? If not 2008, would you believe 2012?
Remember folks, it's only a theory - but in addition to the many dreamers in the hall, don't rule out the Bush down in Florida.
By Dan Rather