LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
We're joined now by Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for NPR. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: We just heard Senator Grassley, the Republican from Iowa, say he reluctantly attend his party's political convention because he has a sense of obligation, which raises the question: what is the point of these conventions anyway? Do you think people still pay attention to them?
LIASSON: People do still pay attention to them. Obviously, they're a big, long infomercial and they're devoid of drama the way they were in the past. But still they are a big opportunity, in this case for Mitt Romney to get out his message unfiltered, to have complete control of the script. There are not going to be any Todd Akin's talking about abortion or any birther jokes, no big attacks from the other side. So, he is going to have a chance to put out his own message, address his own deficits, which are his high personal negative ratings, he can counter the image that he's too rich and too out of touch, he doesn't understand middle-class people. And the conventions, along with the debates, are really one of the very few potential game changers in the campaign.
WERTHEIMER: Do you think that the fact that he can control the message but he can't control the weather is going to be a problem? I mean, are Republicans going to lose anything but losing a day of their convention? The theme for the day: we can do better.
LIASSON: Yes. Well, then I think they'll use that theme somewhere else. I don't think that losing a day is a problem. The Democrats only have three days. Last four years ago, the Republicans only had three days because of Hurricane Gustav. I think the problem is that the hurricane is a distraction that people might pay more attention to the news of the hurricane than to Romney telling about his experience at Bain Capital and in Massachusetts and in the Olympics and why that will help him fix the economy. So, the weather is a distraction from Romney's attempt to kind of tell his own biography, but I don't think losing a day matters.
WERTHEIMER: Now, there have been some other distractions over the past couple of weeks. Two men who have helped to determine the shape of the race - Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman Mitt Romney tapped to be his vice president - what has been his impact?
LIASSON: Well, I think so far he's had an impact in Wisconsin. The polls have tightened here, and that would be a very big win for Mitt Romney. It would help him on his path to 270 electoral votes. It doesn't seem so far that Ryan has given the Republican ticket any kind of a national bounce. That being said, he doesn't seem to have hurt them either. The Democrats were hopeful that with Ryan on the ticket, with his plan to restructure Medicare - ended as we know it, as the Democrats say - that it would hurt the Romney campaign in Florida, for instance, eat into his strong showing among seniors. There are not really any signs of that yet. That being said, I would say the Ryan pick was extremely significant. It changed the whole premise of the Romney campaign from seeing the election as a referendum on President Obama to a choice, a very clear ideological choice. He firmly embraced, formerly embraced, the House Republican agenda when he picked Ryan. And that will be his mandate - a very clear explicit mandate - if he wins in November.
WERTHEIMER: Now, you already mentioned Todd Akin, the Republican congressman, Missouri Senate candidate, who created a controversy with his comment about legitimate so-called rape and pregnancy.
LIASSON: Yes. I think that we saw very similar effect with Todd Akin. You see the polls in Missouri go down for him. So, it might affect the Republican's Senate chances. But we don't see a big national effect. No bounce with women nationally. The gender gap is pretty much where it was before he made those comments. The Democrats were very hopeful that Todd Akin would help them expand the gender gap, hurt Republicans even more among women. That hasn't happened yet, although it certainly has had an effect in Missouri.
WERTHEIMER: So, do you see this as a game changer? Mitt Romney is not ahead in the polls. He's still running neck and neck. Will this change that - the convention?
LIASSON: You mean the convention. Well, I don't know. I think the Romney campaign's theory of the race is that it's going to stay close until Labor Day. Then because of the conventions, because of all of the money that he can bring to bear after he's the nominee - he does have a big financial advantage - people will start paying attention and he will pull ahead. The fundamentals of a bad economy will kind of clank into place. The undecideds, even though they're smaller, fewer numbers of them, will break for the challenger. And he is seen as better on the number one issue, which is the economy, and they see that's when he will be able to pull ahead and stay ahead.
WERTHEIMER: Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent. Thanks, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you, Linda.
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