Dave Barry

Dave Barry: GOP Convention day one all about humanizing Mitt Romney

The Republican Convention finally got going Tuesday with a parade of speakers taking the stage to express the official theme of the evening: “Mitt Romney: You’re Darned Tooting He’s Human!”

This theme is intended to counteract what the Republicans see as their candidate’s biggest weakness, which is that when many voters look at Mitt, they do not see a regular person like themselves. They see this tall, fit, handsome, rich Mormon with a square jaw and perfect hair and a blond wife and at least 23 tall handsome clone sons; a man who appears to be calculating and reserved; a man who has never once, even at a wedding reception, gotten hammered and danced the Funky Chicken and then passed out face-down in the prime rib.

Voters see this, and they say to themselves: “This man can’t possibly relate to me and my everyday problems, such as my financial woes, my hemorrhoids, and this tendency I have to talk to myself.”

So the Republicans brought out a parade of humanizers, with the star being Mitt’s wife, Ann. She talked, movingly, about a completely different Mitt Romney, a Mitt Romney whom most people have never seen, a Mitt Romney who is funny, spontaneous, tender, laid-back, five feet tall, overweight, bald and — in some states — Jewish.

Will this message resonate with the voters? I have no idea. I’m deep inside the Convention Zone, a world of intense political geekdom totally disconnected from regular earthlings. You have no idea how weird it is in here. Newt Gingrich walks by, and people act as though it’s Brad Pitt. A person named “Piers Morgan” is HUGE. At one point I found myself in a clot of media people running — Running! — to catch up to Mike Huckabee. At least I think it was Mike Huckabee. It was definitely a large man with a comb over. All I know is, we were after him. I found myself getting caught up in it, joining the pursuit, until it hit me: What would I do if I actually caught him? I had no questions to ask him, except maybe, “Are you Mike Huckabee?”

It was after this incident that I realized I had to get out of the Convention Zone. So I made my way out through the maze of chain-link fences and police checkpoints, out to the streets of Tampa, hoping to find some normal people. Instead I found protesters. There were maybe a hundred of them, mostly young, some wearing bandanas to protect their secret identities from ... I don’t really know. Maybe their parents.

The protesters were marching on a meandering route, shooting video of each other and chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho; poverty has got to go.” (It is a proven economic fact that if you chant this enough times, poverty, as we know it, will disappear.)

Observing the protesters were several hundred police officers, a few dozen members of the news media, a preacher instructing them through an electronic bullhorn to accept Jesus, and essentially zero members of the actual public. So, as is traditional with protests, there was no chance that anybody’s mind would be changed about anything.

At one point it appeared as though there might be a confrontation between the protesters and the police, but nobody’s heart really seemed to be in it. Eventually it started raining and the protest melted away. I’ve seen more civil unrest at bar mitzvahs. (I’m looking at you, Rick Schatz.)

For me, the best part of the protest was the presence of Vermin Supreme — his legal name — who has been a candidate for president for many years, and received 837 votes in the New Hampshire primary. I’m always happy to run into Vermin on the campaign trail; he’s easy to spot, because he wears a large rubber boot on his head. He also wears as many as six neckties simultaneously, although here, because of the heat, he was down to just three.

Vermin’s signature issue has long been dental hygiene — he is for it — but he told me that he has recently added zombie preparedness and awareness. He said he wants “to harness the awesome power of zombies” by putting them on treadmills and using them to generate electricity. He notes that “there has never been an accident resulting from a zombie escape from a licensed zombie generating facility.”

You cannot argue with that.

And now for some late-breaking convention updates:

WORLD’S LONGEST CONTINUOUS SIDEWALK: As of this morning, Tampa still holds the record.

MYSTERY SPEAKER: Rumor here is that there will be a mystery speaker Thursday night, the idea being that the element of surprise will keep the news media interested in the convention. I think this might work, but only if they pick the right speaker. It needs to be somebody with something to say; somebody with real ideas; and — above all — somebody with footwear on his head.