Although it was postponed one day on account of a hurricane warning, the most exciting thing about the Republican convention which starts today in Tampa, is not Mitt Romney as the Presidential candidate, but Paul Ryan as his VP running mate.
Ryan has electrified and revived Republican (read conservative) enthusiasm which had hit the doldrums until Romney made his choice known. Critics in both parties initially exuded pessimism and disappointment in Romney's choice, but that hasn't been reflected in the public's reaction.
True, most Americans don't know much about Ryan -- a Congressman from Wisconsin and chair of the House Budget Committee. But first impressions have been positive: well spoken, cheerful, categorical, knowledgeable, fearless, smart.
As if to underline the voting public's relief at having an eloquent VP candidate who can articulate Romney's campaign more persuasively than Romney can, Real Clear Politics found that an average of all polls indicated that Romney and Barack Obama were virtually neck-and-neck, with Obama maybe one point ahead.
When Romney announced that Ryan was his Veep choice, Obama was nine points ahead, and growing. Tea Partiers and Independents were beginning to desert what they saw as a foundering ship. That perception has changed dramatically, with polls showing both Obama and Romney with favourable ratings, but by almost a two-to-one margin (61 per cent to 30 per cent) people felt America was heading in the wrong direction.
There's no guarantee a dynamic running mate will lead to a Romney victory come November 4, but without committed Republicans enthused and optimistic, his chances were slight to non-existent.
Even this strikes some as strange. In his National Post column, Conrad Black put it succinctly and accurately that the Obama administration "has been guilty of the worst fiscal mismanagement in American history and the most unsuccessful foreign police since Jimmy Carter, if not Warren Harding."
It's pretty hard to dispute that. Even so, an incumbent President running for re-election has advantages. So the nomination convention which runs to Thursday (Aug. 30) will cheerfully rally to Romney because Paul Ryan is on the ticket and he's the reason for renewed optimism.
It's funny (peculiar) that the initial reaction to Ryan as Veep was that it was shifting focus away from the economy, where Obama's record is abysmal, to medicare and health insurance which the Obama campaign is stronger.
This perception has changed the more Ryan has been exposed to public interviews and TV talk shows. He is alarmingly convincing without appearing dogmatic or fanatical. He clearly has a "plan" to save money and cut government spending without further damaging the economy or crippling individual initiative.
On the eve of the Republican convention, polls in Florida showed Obama and Romney just about equal, with the conventional likely to give Romney a boost. The Democratic Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina from September 4 - 6, where Romney has a slight lead in polls, will also boost Obama's support for a few moments.
After that, the real campaign for the presidency begins -- already one of the nastiest in history. It'll be especially interesting to see Ryan debate Obama's VP -- bumbling, loveable, misspoken Joe Biden who has already opined that the choice of Ryan for blacks means that "they're going to put y'all back in chains."
There's likely to be more of such line-crossing rhetoric -- which probably won't have much effect since the voting public knows that it's all bullroar.