By CNN's Jack Cafferty:
With Isaac drawing a bead on the city of New Orleans, the Republican National Convention is no longer at the center of this week's media storm.
Nonetheless, the GOP needs to shine during its abbreviated three-day convention if it wants to recapture the White House.
And while national conventions these days are highly scripted affairs, there's still a little room for a politician to surprise us, in a good or bad way.
Politico takes a look at past conventions and how they've been the breeding grounds for both rising stars and unintended screwups.
Barack Obama's keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention propelled him into the national spotlight and started talk of him as presidential material.
At the other end of the spectrum was Bill Clinton's 1988 convention speech. It went on for twice the allotted time, and delegates didn't pay much attention - except for cheering when Clinton finally said the words "in closing."
As for the Republicans' Tampa convention, there are high hopes for keynote speaker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the candidate's wife, Ann Romney.
This convention could be the Republicans' last best chance to introduce Mitt Romney to the country on their terms.
New CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll numbers show that although the race is a dead heat between Romney and President Obama, likely voters believe the president cares more about people and better understands their needs while Romney is perceived as better able to handle the economy, always the most important issue in any presidential election.
And while the temptation might be to try to make Romney seem warmer and fuzzier, he is resisting, saying, "I am who I am." At the end of the day, it's probably easier to be true to yourself than try to be someone you're not.
Here's my question to you: What's the greatest risk Republicans face at their convention?
Tune in to "The Situation Room" at 5 p.m. ET to see if Jack reads your answer on the air.
And we'd love to know where you're writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.
By CNN's Jack Cafferty:
"It's time for Mitt Romney to man up, pick up the phone, and ask Sarah Palin to the dance."
That's a quote from a Daily Beast piece that argues Romney should invite Palin to speak at the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, next month.
Palin is complaining to Newsweek that she hasn't been asked to attend the convention yet. She said, "One must remember this isn't Sadie Hawkins and you don't invite yourself and a date to the big dance."
Maybe the Republicans are thinking the downsides to inviting Sarah Palin - anywhere - are pretty obvious:
The former VP candidate and half-term governor of Alaska is a wild card and her off-the-cuff remarks could create headaches for Romney. Palin is polarizing and she could turn off independent voters. Plus she doesn't seem to have much love for Romney so there's always the risk that she could go "rogue."
Never mind all that. Romney might be making a big mistake by not inviting her. It's not like he has this thing wrapped up.
Sarah Palin can do something Mitt Romney can't: fire up the base.
The party faithful went wild when she delivered her "pit bull-hockey mom" convention speech in 2008. And let's face it: Romney could use something to spice up his campaign. So far, electric it ain't.
There are few, if any, other Republicans in 2012 who generate the kind of enthusiasm Palin does.
Plus Mitt Romney was never a tea party favorite. As Newsweek describes it, party activists "feel stuck with a guy served up by Republican elites who speak conservatism with an establishment accent."
Bringing Sarah Palin on board in Tampa might help in this department, too. Her accent is anything but establishment.
Here’s my question to you: Should Sarah Palin be invited to speak at the Republican Convention?
Tune in to the Situation Room at 4pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.
And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.
If Mitt Romney wants to be president, he's going to need help from voters who aren't old white men.
He's got his work cut out for him.
A Politico piece headlined "Barack Obama's group therapy” describes how the re-election campaign has been reaching out to key voting groups by focusing on issues like the contraception fight, equal pay for women, gay marriage, student loans and immigration policy.
Many Republicans find the president's strategy "very crass." Hey, politics is a crass business.
One GOP pollster told Politico that Romney can win if "Republicans decide that it's OK to look outside the country club for some votes."
For his part, Romney is sticking to his message of the economy, hoping it will appeal to all voters.
The traditional Republican base of white voters is shrinking, and if Romney wants to win, he needs minorities and women.
According to the Politico piece, Republicans traditionally get 87% of their votes from whites.
The problem is, the proportion of white voters in the electorate has dropped from 88% in 1976 to 74% in 2008.
At the same time, minority groups grew from 12% to 26%.
Which explains the Obama camp's targeted voter outreach to groups like women, Hispanics, African-Americans, gays and students.
To be fair, Romney is also doing some outreach of his own.
He'll speak Thursday in Florida to NALEO, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Later this summer, he'll address the National Convention of the NAACP.
The question is how much credibility he has with these groups. Marco Rubio or Condoleezza Rice could help.
Here’s my question to you: How can Republicans attract voters other than old white men?
Interested to know which ones made it on air?
FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:
There are a couple ways to drop out of a political race.
A candidate can withdraw gracefully.
Or there's Newt Gingrich.
The guy just can't take a hint. And at this point he's likely hurting not only the Republican Party, but his own political legacy.
As Politico describes it, "the former House Speaker has decided to cap off a historic career by spending the final weeks of the campaign in a sort of political purgatory."
But that won't stop Newt. He's pledging to stay in the race all the way to the convention in Tampa. He's hoping against hope for some extraordinary situation where Mitt Romney can't get enough delegates and Rick Santorum is seen as unelectable.
The problem is he's out of money. His big Super PAC donor Sheldon Adelson - who has donated more than $15 million - says Gingrich is "at the end of his line."
There are no debates left to boost Gingrich, he can't afford to travel, he's fired much of his staff and even the media attention is dwindling.
People are using words like "laughingstock" and "delusional" to describe the former Speaker of the House. Sad really.
For his part, Gingrich insists he's staying in the race to shape the political conversation. And talk about his ideas like $2.50 a gallon gas. But no one is listening anymore.
CNN estimates Gingrich has 134 delegates compared to Romney's 559 and Santorum's 262.
A CNN/ORC Poll shows 6 out of 10 Republicans say Gingrich should drop out of the race. Also, a majority of Republicans say their party's nomination should be determined by the primaries - not the convention.
Here’s my question to you: Why won't Newt Gingrich face reality?
It's just about over.
While Mitt Romney didn't score a knockout in Illinois, to borrow a boxing metaphor, but he landed enough blows that his opponents may soon be unable to answer the bell for the next round.
And it's a bit ironic that the Republican primary fight may have been decided in the Democratic president's home state.
Romney's win was impressive – double digits and, in just about every exit poll category that was measured, save evangelicals and very conservative voters.
Rick Santorum's showing was far from impressive. He got little support from beyond his base. But more importantly, he showed again he is incapable of winning a large midwestern state. And there simply are not enough Louisianas, Alabamas and Mississippis to get him to the nomination.
Newt Gingrich finished dead last. He has now gone from contender to curiosity to nobody cares. He's toast.
Ron Paul, who may have the best set of ideas for solving some of our big problems, has just not been able to connect with enough voters to make a difference.
Finally, if Romney goes on to win the nomination, the Republican voters will have settled for the moderate in the middle. Sort of what the vast majority of this country has always been about. And his victory will be a slap in the face to the Tea Party.
Romney's now looking past these tune-up fights toward the big title bout in November, and the rest of the country is starting to do the same.
Here’s my question to you: Was Illinois the turning point in the Republican race?
It was all there for the taking, but once again Mitt Romney came up a little short.
Romney's inability to score a knockout on Super Tuesday means the Republican blood bath continues - much to the delight of President Obama and the Democrats.
Romney scored a key victory over Rick Santorum in Ohio and won five other states as well, but his losses were far more telling.
For starters, the former Massachusetts governor has problems in the South, where he couldn't top 28% in any of the contested states. He lost both Georgia and Tennessee.
And as we've seen from the start, Romney has serious issues with the base. Some will never see him as a true conservative. They'd rather back Santorum, who is still fighting the culture wars - talking about birth control, religion and how JFK's stance on the separation of church and state made him want to vomit.
Independents are another sore spot for Romney. One poll shows his unfavorable ratings 16-points higher than his favorable ratings among them.
CNN's Howard Kurtz writes in The Daily Beast that there's something distinctly unimpressive about Romney's performance against Santorum - an underfunded former U.S. Senator who lost his last re-election bid by 18-points.
Kurtz says Romney, "projects competence but does not inspire."
Romney is still the party's likely nominee, but it could take a couple more months to wrap it up.
By the way, there is no way Gingrich, Santorum or Paul is going to be the next president. So isn't it past time for them to put their party ahead of themselves and drop out? Apparently not.
Here’s my question to you: Why can't Mitt Romney seal the deal?
Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.
Mitt Romney's not selling what conservatives want to buy.
His focus on jobs and the economy just isn't connecting with the right wing of the GOP.
Peter Beinart writes in The Daily Beast that the Republican base is more fired up about how to keep government from destroying liberty than how to use government to grow the economy.
Yes, conservatives see shrinking government and boosting the economy as related, but their focus is on greater freedom.
It helps explain the success of many of the GOP candidates who have caught fire this time around - from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and currently Rick Santorum.
All of them have described the 2012 election on some level as a struggle between government tyranny and individual freedom.
Chances are in November, more Americans will want to hear about how the next president can fix the economy and create jobs - which would play into Romney's strengths.
But for now he needs to figure out how to make conservatives like him.
And, here's a hint: His speech at the Conservative Politcal Action Conference is not the answer. In it, Romney described himself as a "severely conservative Republican governor." That's just awful.
It once again highlighted his problems on the right.
But Romney did get some good news over the weekend. After the Santorum sweep last Tuesday, Romney narrowly defeated Ron Paul to win the Maine caucuses, and he won the straw poll vote at CPAC.
And there's this: Should Romney become the nominee, conservatives could fall into line faster if they think it means defeating President Obama.
Here’s my question to you: Why can't Mitt Romney catch fire with conservatives?
As the Florida primary comes down to the wire, Newt Gingrich finds himself trailing badly in the polls but getting support from two high-profile Republicans.
The question is whether it will do him any good.
Former presidential candidate and businessman Herman Cain endorsed Gingrich over the weekend.
He called Gingrich a "patriot" who is not afraid of bold ideas.
Cain – who pulled off a surprising win in a Florida straw poll last summer – remains popular among grass-roots conservatives.
But he dropped out of the race in December amid allegations of sexual harassment and marital infidelity.
Then there's Sarah Palin. While she hasn't formally endorsed anyone, it sure seems like the former governor of Alaska is rooting for Gingrich.
Palin is calling on Republicans to vote for Gingrich to "shake up" the establishment "if for no other reason to rage against the machine, vote for Newt, annoy a liberal."
Palin has described the establishment Republicans backing Romney as "cannibals."
While Palin says she respects Mitt Romney, she says there are serious concerns about his record as a conservative. Palin says this primary should not be rushed to an end, adding, "we need to vet this."
You mean the way Palin was vetted for the vice presidency four years ago?
Meanwhile, Gingrich may need all the help he can get in Florida.
Four polls in a row there show Romney with a double-digit lead over Gingrich; the latest one shows Romney up by 14 points.
Here’s my question to you: How much will Sarah Palin and Herman Cain help Newt Gingrich?
Newt Gingrich is sending chills down the spines of establishment Republicans, and it's positively entertaining to watch.
These Republicans say things like it would be "a disaster" if he's the nominee, "There's a reason most people who know him best aren't supporting him" and "Newt means losing 45 states."
They say they're worried Gingrich would bring back the erratic, chaotic and crazy leadership from his time as House Speaker.
What's more, many worry that Gingrich at the top of the ticket would drag down Republican candidates for the House and Senate. In a nutshell, they don't think Gingrich could ever beat President Obama.
So far only 12 sitting Republican lawmakers have backed Gingrich, while more than 60 support Mitt Romney. Many who worry about Gingrich also say they doubt he'll be the party's nominee.
The irony here is that being the anti-establishment candidate could be the best thing Gingrich has going for him. The so-called establishment includes a few hundred of the most powerful and elite Republicans, from lobbyists to senior members of Congress to TV and newspaper pundits.
But Americans are fed up with the political establishment and if the inner circle of Republicans is nervous about Newt, it could actually help him with the average voter. Gingrich also seems to thrive when he's playing the insurgent.
Meanwhile, you can bet the GOP establishment has got a close eye on Florida. They say they're not at DEFCON 5 yet.
But they just might get there if Gingrich wins Florida and presents an even more serious challenge to Romney. I love it.
Here’s my question to you: Is it good or bad that Newt Gingrich makes establishment Republicans nervous?
What's that phrase of which Republicans are so fond? "Family values"?
Just two days before the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich's second ex-wife is out with some tawdry details about him that suggest he has the morals of an alley cat.
In fact, Marianne Gingrich tells ABC News that Newt lacks the moral character to be president. Married to Gingrich for 18 years, says she's coming forward now so voters can know what she knows about him.
And here's what she knows:
She says Newt asked for an "open marriage" so he could have a wife and a mistress. That mistress has since become his third and current wife, Callista.
Gingrich reportedly asked Marianne if she would "share him" when he admitted to a six-year affair with Callista, who is a former congressional aide.
Keep in mind this was around the same time that Gingrich was going after President Bill Clinton for his lack of moral leadership during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Marianne says Newt asked for a divorce just months after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Gingrich divorced his first wife while she was being treated for cancer. Family values.
Meanwhile, ABC News will air the full interview tonight on "Nightline." Apparently there was disagreement at the network over the timing of the interview, given its potential effect on Saturday's primary in South Carolina.
The Drudge Report first leaked word of the interview last night –14 years and a day after Matt Drudge broke the Monica Lewinsky story.
As for Gingrich, so far his response to all this seems to be referring the press to ask his daughters about it. It's part of that whole family values thingy.
Here’s my question to you: When is the proper time to release a potentially damaging interview with one of Newt Gingrich's ex-wives?
Jack Cafferty sounds off hourly on the Situation Room on the stories crossing his radar. Now, you can check in with Jack online to see what he's thinking and weigh in with your own comments online and on TV.
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