TAMPA, Fla. — On the eve of the GOP presidential nominating convention, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus appears legitimately at ease.
Even as President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies move to overshadow the Gulf Coast gathering with a series of well-timed interviews, campaign stops and Tampa bracketing activities, Priebus in a Saturday interview with Roll Call was the opposite of cautiously optimistic about November and dismissed chatter that the convention is in danger of being overshadowed.
During a brief discussion as he hustled between media appearances and last-minute convention planning duties, I asked the Wisconsinite about this week’s four-day event, the battle for the White House, his home state and what it means to have House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan on the cusp of being nominated for vice president, as well as the Obama campaign’s vaunted voter turnout operation. The RNC chairman didn't pull any punches.
“I find all of their ground-game talk to be garbage. They’ve got a decent ground game but they over-hype it so much,” said Priebus, who took the reigns of the Republican National Committee last year when it was more than $20 million in debt and being shunned by the wealthy GOP donor set he needed to get his operation presidential-campaign ready.
Priebus, who served as the Wisconsin GOP chairman last cycle, cited the recall campaign in the state won by Gov. Scott Walker (R) in June as evidence that Republicans and the Romney campaign will be able to compete with Obama on the ground. The RNC chairman said that the party made more than 4.5 million live voter contacts in the run-up to the June 5 contest, and said the effort will be replicated across electoral battlegrounds this fall.
“We just crushed them on the ground — door to door [and] with absentee ballots,” said Priebus, whose committee is so flush with cash it spent $24.2 million since July on independent expenditure advertising attacking Obama.
On Romney’s prospects in Wisconsin, Priebus was unequivocal. He said Ryan helps, and so does Walker, while asserting that the Republicans understand Wisconsin better than the Obama campaign. This edge will make a significant difference down the stretch of the fall campaign, Priebus said. The chairman also acknowledged that it will be a point of personal pride for him to help “deliver” Wisconsin for the GOP.
“It will be competitive but we’re going to win. I think we’ve shown recently that we’re pretty good at wining in Wisconsin. We’ve got a better ground,” he said. “There will be nothing better than putting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan over top with 10 electoral votes from the Badger State.”
When I asked Priebus what he wanted voters most to take away from the 40th quadrennial Republican convention — if they could only walk away with one message — he answered with a single sentence. “That Republicans are going to provide a better future for America,” he said. It was the only time in the interview he opted for such a short answer.
The Obama campaign plans to do its best to leave voters with a different view of the GOP and the Romney-Ryan ticket.
“The Democratic response to the Republican convention will hold Romney true to his record — whether it’s his embrace of the most extreme positions of his party on women’s health, his profit-at-any-cost business experience that made him millions but left thousands out of work, or his economic plan that severely undermines the middle class,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said. “The response includes the president fighting outlining the choice for students in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia, the vice president laying out the stakes for the middle class in Florida, the first lady on a back-to-school tour including Letterman, and surrogates touring key states to show Americans why the Romney/Ryan ticket is wrong for the middle class and why they're wrong for women.”
Priebus was equally tough in his assessment of Obama. I asked him if he believes there’s an obscured issue that is pushing voters into Romney’s camp — one overlooked by the 24-hour, Twitter-obsessed, Acela Corridor-centric news cycle. I thought Priebus would respond with recycled remarks about the economy and jobs. Instead, he answered with a personal dig at the president.
“I think it’s going to be a tough competitive race,” Priebus said. “But one issue that might not be on radar…I think the issue that is going to ultimately undo Barack Obama: People are starting to believe he’s not real anywhere, that he’s just a plasticized Washington politician who continues to give verbose speeches…Once that sinks in…I think he’s going to implode.”