TAMPA, Fla. — Viewers tuning into the Republican National Convention have heard Ann Romney speak lovingly of her husband and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pledge “a new era of truth telling.” What they haven’t heard is talk of offshore tax havens, Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, or questions about President Barack Obama’s birthplace — the kind of divisive issues that have bedeviled Mitt Romney in the weeks before formally accepting his party’s presidential nomination.
Some of those were unforced errors that drew the party off message, like Akin’s contention that victims of “legitimate” rape could physically resist becoming pregnant. Others, like offshore tax havens, are a reminder of Romney’s wealth and refusal to release more than two years of tax returns. Mindful that the convention offers an unparalleled opportunity to introduce the former Massachusetts governor on his own terms to a broad electorate, Republicans are sticking carefully to their message that Romney will rescue an economy left in shambles by Obama’s policies.
Here’s a look at what has gone missing so far at the Republican convention, and clues as to why:
• OFFSHORE TAX HAVENS: Romney puzzled many supporters last week when he said big business was “doing fine” in part because it can put money in offshore accounts. Republicans, including Romney, pounced on a similar comment from Obama in June when he said the private sector was “doing fine, suggesting the president is out of touch with the country’s economic woes. And Romney’s remark renewed focus on his vast fortune and history of holding bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.
The issue flared anew Wednesday when ABC News reported the Romney campaign held a reception for high donors aboard a yacht flying a Cayman Islands flag.
Romney has struggled throughout the campaign to project more empathy as polling shows most voters believe Obama is the candidate more likely to pursue policies to help the middle class. So convention speakers are avoiding the tax haven issue and are speaking broadly of Romney’s “success” rather than his wealth.
• TODD AKIN: The week before the Republican convention was shadowed by the Akin story and renewed scrutiny of Romney’s position on abortion and that of his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Romney supports access to abortion in cases of rape, incest and if the life of the woman is in danger — a departure from the Republican Party platform, which asserts that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” Ryan has opposed abortion except in cases of endangerment to the woman’s life but says he is comfortable with Romney’s position.
The focus on abortion, rape and what constitutes “legitimate” rape has been an unwelcome distraction for Romney, who trail Obama among female voters. Former Sen. Rick Santorum touched on his own anti-abortion position in his convention speech but most of the other speakers have steered clear. Republicans are hoping to win back women in part by shifting focus to their struggles in the weak economy. Ann Romney used her prime time speech Tuesday to focus on women’s economic challenges, saying “It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder to make everything right.”
• OBAMA’S BIRTHPLACE: A small but vocal segment of the GOP electorate continues to question whether Obama was born in the United States. Mainstream Republicans have worked to distance themselves from the so-called “birther” movement, saying the discredited rumors about the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate are a distraction from the party’s economic message. Romney himself complicated matters last week at a campaign stop in his home state of Michigan when he declared: “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.”
Republicans have tried for years to make the party appear more ethnically diverse and are keenly aware a nod to the “birthers” could smack of a racial smear against the country’s first black president. The party instead will continue to showcase some of its high profile minority members, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
• GAY MARRIAGE: Republicans once saw opposition to same-sex marriage as a winning issue for the party, one that helped galvanized conservative Christian voters and brought them to the polls. But this year, expect no discussion of same sex marriage onstage at the convention even though the GOP platform backs a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Polling shows a growing number of Americans now support gay nuptials, particularly younger people whose votes Romney is hoping to woo. Obama carried the youth vote overwhelmingly against Republican John McCain in 2008 but Republicans believe they can make inroads among young people discouraged by the weak economy.
• GEORGE W. BUSH: He served two terms as president and left office less than four years ago, but Bush is virtually a ghost at the Republican gathering as polls show many voters continue to hold him accountable for the nation’s economic problems. Bush also serves as an uncomfortable reminder for Republicans of the heavy government spending and debt incurred during his presidency. Democrats, for their part, have tried to yoke Romney to Bush, suggesting he would restore many of the former president’s policies if elected.