Indiana University

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Last modified: Friday, August 24, 2012

IU experts discuss next week's Republican National Convention

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Editors: The 2012 Republican National Convention begins Monday, Aug. 27, in Tampa, Fla. Indiana University experts are available to speak with news media about various aspects of the convention.

Aug. 24, 2012

IU experts discuss the following topics:

Using 'major productions' to engage voters
Romney's challenge in unifying the party
Identity politics and the GOP
Rallying the base, softening Romney's image
Opportunity for Romney and Ryan
Gender and sexual orientation in the GOP platform

Using 'major productions' to engage voters

The Republican National Convention starts Monday, but how closely will people be watching it and the Democratic Party event to follow?

"Four years ago voters really paid attention to the conventions," said Betsi Grabe, professor of telecommunications in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. "Coverage of the two events drew massive media audiences because of the characters involved in the drama: The first African-American presidential nominee and ... well, Sarah Palin.

"This year, the wildcard personality elements are missing from the stage," she added. "The image handlers of both campaigns know that, and they also know that if they don't get voters fired up during the conventions, this will be a very dull campaign with low voter turnout on Election Day."

She expects "major productions" at both party conventions, "played out through traditional and emerging social media -- but in ways that we have never seen before. Don't be surprised if the conventions look like attempts to duplicate the Olympics spectacle," quipped Grabe, who studies election coverage.

She does expect to see differences in production style and strategy between the two conventions, in line with the personalities of the two presidential candidates.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney appears more comfortable speaking from a podium and limits his interaction with people on the rope lines. Thus, she expects the Republicans will employ a "spectatorship" approach during the convention and in the weeks after that.

The Democrats, she thinks, will use "social media and other paraphernalia inventively to simulate interactivity."

"The days of dumping balloons and confetti on the convention floor to wow the electorate are over," she said. They are going to have to do more to fire up voters. "There are serious political issues to debate, but image handlers understand that people connect and become politically active when an issue gains emotional spark. Expect the personalization of issues through emotional testimony ... and relentless tweeting about it."

Grabe can be reached at or 812-856-2460. Top

Romney's challenge in unifying the party

After an unusually divisive nominating process, in which no fewer than 10 candidates competed, the Republican Party will officially choose Mitt Romney as its candidate for president and Paul Ryan as its choice for vice president. That much is clear, says Leslie Lenkowsky, clinical professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs -- but remaining to be answered are three questions that will greatly affect the party's chances of winning in November:

Lenkowsky's main research focus is on nonprofits and public policy, civil society in comparative perspective, volunteering and civic engagement, and social entrepreneurship. Contact him at 812-855-4072 or email Top

Identity politics and the GOP

The fact that Massachusetts state officials Kerry Healey and Jane Edmonds and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will immediately precede Mitt Romney at the convention podium suggests that the Republican Party will reach out to women, Latinos and immigrants -- groups that are likely to vote Democratic in November -- says Elizabeth Bennion, associate professor of political science at IU South Bend.

"It will be interesting to see how the party reaches out to these groups given the hard line it has taken on the issues of undocumented immigration and reproductive rights," she said. "It will also be interesting to see how the party handles the religious identities of the presidential and vice presidential candidates. Kennedy broke the barrier for Catholics, but not for Mormons. The fact that Rubio was confirmed in the Catholic Church, but attended a Latter-Day Saints church for many years, may be a way to confirm that Mormons are, in fact, Christians.

"Although the GOP shuns the notion of identity politics," she said, "the identity of the speakers is meant, in part, to suggest that Americans from all backgrounds and all social groups should embrace the Republican platform and the party's candidate for president." Bennion added that this statement does not in any way detract from the fact that the GOP considered speakers' political experience, speaking skills, ideological outlook, popularity, charisma and other merits when making decisions about who would speak for the party.

"Only a handful of speakers get time in this national and international spotlight," she said. "No contemporary political party can use speakers who all share the same age, race, ethnicity, gender, region and professional background. Major parties are, by definition, umbrella organizations. They must attract voters across demographic groups to capture or maintain majority party status."

Bennion said Rubio's appeal to Hispanic voters is complex. He has a compelling story about immigrants who come to this nation, work hard and live the American Dream. Many Americans, including immigrant communities, can relate to this story. "It is a powerful example -- a powerful narrative", says Bennion. However, it is not clear, she added, if he will actually tell his story as an immigrant's story. His family is from Cuba, and Cubans have been able to enter the U.S. without documents and be accepted as legal residents. Rubio "may actually be a reminder of the disparate treatment that different groups receive, causing some immigrants -- and pro-immigration groups -- to become further alienated from the Republican Party," she said.

She added that the role of some convention speakers, such as Ann Romney, will be to make Mitt Romney seem more likeable. "There is a debate among political observers in this election about whether the election will ultimately be about the economy or about likeability," she said.

Bennion is campus director of the American Democracy Project at IU South Bend. Her research and teaching interests include American politics, political parties, and race and gender politics. She can be reached at 574-520-4128 or Top

Rallying the base, softening Romney's image

As with all national conventions, the GOP national convention must create energy to rally the Republican base as well as to attract swing and undecided voters, said Marie Eisenstein, associate professor of political science at Indiana University Northwest.

"Rallying the GOP base is an easily accomplished task, which began with the choice of Paul Ryan as the vice presidential candidate and will be helped by slating Governor Chris Christie -- a Republican favorite, particularly on budgets on the economy -- for a keynote address," Eisenstein said. "However, the story or narrative of Mitt Romney must also be carefully crafted during this convention. The choice of Ann Romney as the first speaker at the convention will go a long way toward helping Republicans promote Mitt Romney as approachable, and the news that some TV networks will bypass Ann Romney's speech raises issues of media bias against Republicans."

Eisenstein noted that, historically, no sitting president has won re-election while presiding over an abysmal economy. Based on that fact, this should be an easier election campaign for the Republicans.

"But just as the 2008 primary and general elections defied traditional expectations, I think that Republicans should recognize that 2012 -- even with the economy in shambles -- will not necessarily follow traditional expectations either," she said. "Thus, the Republican convention needs to transition into a narrative where Romney is viewed as caring about the 'average' person and not focus solely on the economy -- although that is an extremely important topic. While it is an unfair characterization, Romney is viewed as less concerned about the 'average' person than Obama. Romney and the Republicans need to not only counter this misperception but to change it. Ann Romney will help in this regard."

Eisenstein teaches courses on Congress and the U.S. presidency. She is an expert on political and religious tolerance and the author of "Religion and the Politics of Tolerance: How Christianity Builds Democracy." To speak with her, contact Emily Banas, IU Northwest Office of Marketing and Communications, at 219-980-6536 or Top

Opportunity for Romney and Ryan

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will take the convention stage in Tampa, Fla., at an opportune time for their campaign, says David Orentlicher, the Samuel R. Rosen Professor of Law at the IU McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

"With the economy continuing to struggle, many voters remain receptive to change in the Oval Office," Orentlicher said. "If Romney and Ryan can energize their base while also reassuring independent voters that they are worthy of the public trust, they will generate considerable momentum for the Republican ticket."

David Orentlicher is an expert in health care and constitutional law. He campaigned successfully for three terms in the Indiana House of Representatives. His book on presidential politics and partisan conflict will be published in early 2013 by NYU Press. He can be reached at 317-274-4993 or Top

Gender and sexual orientation in the GOP platform

Two faculty members from the IU Maurer School of Law in Bloomington are available to comment on issues related to the issues at the convention.

Dawn Johnsen, the Walter W. Foskett Professor of Law, can comment on issues relating to reproductive rights and sexual orientation discrimination. A former acting U.S. assistant attorney general and legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, Johnsen is writing an article on the Defense of Marriage Act and President Obama's decision not to defend it.

Senior lecturer Seth Lahn is also available to comment on gender and sexual orientation matters, including reproductive rights, rape and sexual violence, and same-sex marriage. Both Johnsen and Lahn expect that these issues will receive attention at the convention, given the recently proposed GOP platform and the remarks last week by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

To speak with Johnsen or Lahn, contact Ken Turchi, assistant dean for communications and marketing at the Maurer School, 812-856-4044 or Top

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