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CONVENTION WATCH: Clint Eastwood cracks wise before Romney's speech

Thursday, August 30, 2012 | 10:07 p.m. CDT; updated 10:28 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 30, 2012

Convention Watch shows you the 2012 political conventions through the eyes of The Associated Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

'MAKE MY DAY'

The crowd roared at its first glimpse of actor and director Clint Eastwood, the night's surprise guest. "Save some for Mitt," he told them.

In free-wheeling, joke-filled remarks, Eastwood remembered the enthusiasm around President Barack Obama's nomination four years ago.

"Everybody's crying. Oprah was crying. I was even crying," he joked.

Then he quickly pivoted to the serious: "I haven't cried that hard since I found out there's 23 million unemployed people in this country. That is something to cry for. That is a disgrace, a national disgrace."

"This administration hasn't done enough to cure that," Eastwood said, and it's "time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem."

Eastwood got an adoring standing ovation by telling the delegates, "When somebody does not do the job, we've got to let him go."

At their insistence, he ended with his Dirty Harry catchphrase, joined by the crowd: "Go ahead, make my day."

— Connie Cass —Twitter http://twitter.com/ConnieCass

THE CHANT: 'U-S-A!'

Political conventions are one thing. But the Olympics — well, that's something that can really get a crowd's blood stirring.

As a lineup of former Olympic medalists took to the stage at the Republican National Convention, the crowd of delegates burst into a spontaneous, fist-pumping chant of "USA! USA!"

Was it Tampa ... or was it London again?

— Sally Buzbee

 ON THE ISSUES

Mitt Romney's focus on jobs and the deficit in his acceptance speech plays to his strengths on the issues, while Thursday's convention agenda sought to shore up his weak points. The latest AP-GfK poll finds him most competitive with Obama on fiscal matters. Among registered voters, he leads the president by 10 points as more trusted to handle the federal budget deficit, and holds narrow 4-point edges on creating jobs and handling the economy.

But Romney trails Obama by 15 points on handling social issues, and by 6 points on handling Medicare, a central focus of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's congressional career.

The focus among Thursday night's convention speakers on Romney's personal and professional life could help to boost his personal image. Registered voters split evenly in their impressions of the former governor — 46 percent have a favorable impression, 46 percent an unfavorable one.

Romney also trails the president on the question of which candidate is the stronger leader (50 percent Obama to 41 percent Romney) and is seen as less apt to understand average people's problems (51 percent say Obama better understands compared with 36 percent Romney).

— Jennifer Agiesta — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennagiesta

A SOMBER HUSH

The floor of a national political convention can be a chaotic place. Many delegates do listen to every speech as the evening goes on. But other delegates mill around, chatting with friends, thronging the aisles, dashing out for food — and above all else, angling for photos with well-known faces. It's often noisy and frequently raucous.

But every once in a while the convention floor stills for a bit. That happened Thursday night when Ted and Pat Oparowski, a Mormon couple, took the stage to describe a painful period in their life — when their teenage son, David, was diagnosed in 1979 with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Ted Oparowski, who described himself as someone of modest means, told the crowd how Mitt Romney had struck up a friendship with their son, through his work in the church, visiting the 14-year-old during the months he struggled with cancer before dying.

As the couple spoke in slow, sometimes halting voices, delegates in the aisles turned and listened. Voices dropped. The stillness lasted until the couple left the stage.

— Sally Buzbee

FAMILY LEGACY

The Bush family is making sure its message gets out.

Among the few mentions of the last Republican elected and re-elected president were by his family, who seemed to use the brief time spent on President Obama's predecessor to try to polish George W. Bush's legacy.

A five-minute video aired at the convention Wednesday included side-by-side interviews with George W. Bush and his father, former President George H. W. Bush.

The senior Bush noted of his son's administration: "I think the thing I take pride in is the integrity."

The younger Bush's wife Laura added: "I'm so proud of George."

Romney advisers dismissed that speakers were advised to stay away from the Bush years. But some delegates said it was understandable that he didn't show.

Bush's brother Jeb, Florida's former governor, gave the most direct defense at the outset of his speech to the convention Thursday. It was completely off the advance script, and it was emphatic, praising "a man of integrity, courage and honor" who kept the country safe "during incredibly challenging times."

When he finished, he transitioned to his prepared remarks this way: "Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let's talk a little bit about our kids and education."

— Thomas Beaumont — Twitter http://twitter.com/

HISPANIC OUTREACH

Republicans continued their strong outreach to Hispanic voters during Thursday night's convention.

All week they have been highlighting Hispanic elected officials from around the country, but on Thursday the effort kicked into even a higher gear. In a short video, elected officials from New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida talked about how their party's values are the values of many Hispanics — from strong family ties to strong support for small business.

On the heels of the video, Romney's son Craig Romney spoke in Spanish to the crowd, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — a popular politician who also spoke to the crowd in Spanish.

Scheduled to be up later in the evening: Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — perhaps the country's most up-and-coming Hispanic official.

— Sally Buzbee

WHO'S TUNING IN

Sure, political conventions aim to fire up the die-hard partisans in the arena, but they're also made-for-TV events designed to appeal to undecided voters. Recent polling suggests they might not be hitting their mark.

A Pew Research Center survey before the Republican convention began found just over four in 10 adults were interested in following each party's convention.

Partisans were most interested in their own gathering — 70 percent of Republicans were interested in this week's events and 66 percent of Democrats were interested in their party's upcoming convention. Fewer partisans check in on the other team: 41 percent of Democrats were interested in the goings-on in Tampa, Fla., while 28 percent of Republicans were interested in tuning in for Obama's re-nomination.

Among independents, just 37 percent said they were interested in the Republican convention, 36 percent in the Democratic one.

For Republicans angling for young, disaffected Obama voters, the convention may not be their best chance. Overnight ratings for the GOP convention suggested less than 10 percent of viewers were under age 35. The Pew poll found less than 30 percent of twenty-somethings were interested in the political conventions.

— Jennifer Agiesta — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennagiesta


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