CONVENTION WATCH: Clint Eastwood cracks wise

Associated Press
Actor Clint Eastwood leaves the stage after speaking to delegates during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Convention Watch shows you the 2012 political conventions through the eyes of Associated Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

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'MAKE MY DAY'

The crowd roared at its first glimpse of actor/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

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QUICKQUOTE: ON POLITICIANS

"Politicians are employees of ours." — Clint Eastwood, speaking to the Republican National Convention

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SECRET'S OUT: CLINT EASTWOOD

Surprise: Clint Eastwood is the night's mystery speaker.

In a showbiz flourish, the GOP convention appearance of the "Dirty Harry" star and Oscar-winning director of "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby" was kept secret.

The suspense had built through the week as rumors circulated that Eastwood might make a Mitt Romney's day.

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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

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MITT IN THE HOUSE

Mitt Romney has arrived at the convention hall where he'll give his keynote speech and accept the Republican Party's nomination for president later Thursday night.

— Steve Peoples — Twitter http://twitter.com/sppeoples

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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 seeks to shore up his weak points. The latest Associated Press-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. That lags behind Obama's 52 percent favorable to 46 percent unfavorable mark on this question.

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

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WHOSE CONVENTION?

Whose convention is this?

If you use Newt and Callista Gingrich's remarks as a guide, you'd think the convention in Tampa was for Ronald Reagan. The former House speaker and his wife invoked Reagan 13 times during their brief remarks.

Mentions of Mitt Romney? Four.

— Phil Elliott — Twitter http://twitter.com/Philip_Elliott

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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-Hodgkins 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

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FAMILY LEGACY

The family Bush 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/

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GINGRICH X 2

Newt Gingrich, known for doing things his way, capped his losing presidential bid with a unique GOP convention appearance alongside his wife, Callista.

Taking turns speaking, sort of like Oscar presenters, the pair praised Mitt Romney by comparing him to President Ronald Reagan.

Barack Obama is no Reagan, they made clear. He's more like Jimmy Carter, the Gingriches asserted.

"It's striking how President Carter and President Obama both took our nation down a path that in four years weakened America's confidence in itself and our hope for a better future," Newt said.

Left behind were any hard feelings from the heated primary campaign in which he called Romney a liar at one point and in a debate urged him to drop "the pious baloney."

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

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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

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BROTHERLY LOVE

Jeb Bush used his turn on the Republican's national stage to make a spirited, personal defense of his brother, George W. Bush, whose oft-criticized presidency has been barely mentioned at the party's convention.

"My brother, well, I love my brother. He is a man of integrity and courage and honor," Bush said before launching into his formal remarks, which focused on education policy.

Early in his brother's two-term tenure, America was shocked by the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Jeb Bush said: "During incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe."

Delegates responded with a standing ovation.

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

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THE WONDER YEAR?

While speaker after speaker at the Republican National Convention lambasted Barack Obama — and more than one mocked the final night of his 2008 convention in Denver — they appropriated one of the best-known songs of that Democratic night's musical star, Stevie Wonder.

The Obama campaign played the song, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," frequently at the end of the candidate's rallies that year, and Wonder himself sang it on the final night of Obama's convention at Denver's Invesco Field.

Thursday night, playing Newt and Callista Gingrich offstage, the GOP convention's band swung into the song, the second time it was featured in the hall this week.

— Robert Furlow — Twitter http://twitter.com/furl442

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FULL-THROATED DEFENSE

The last Republican president, George W. Bush, has been almost invisible at this convention — until Thursday night. Almost no previous speaker had mentioned the president who immediately preceded Barack Obama. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan even took an oblique swipe at Bush, noting in his speech Wednesday night that the country's budget and debt problems had been caused not just by Obama, but by administrations before his.

That changed Thursday night, when the former president's brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made an impromptu — and full throated — defense of his brother at the start of his speech to the delegates. Jeb Bush's speech was on education. But before he leapt in, Jeb Bush got the crowd roaring by telling the crowd of delegates "I love my brother." In a very troubled time for America, Jeb Bush said, "He kept us safe."

George W. Bush was just a few months into his presidency when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, killing thousands of Americans. In the aftermath of those Sept. 11 attacks, then-President Bush ordered American troops first into Afghanistan to attack al-Qaida and then later into Iraq to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein.

— Sally Buzbee

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SUNSHINE AT LAST

"It's finally the Sunshine State." — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, speaking on the floor of the Republican National Convention on Thursday night, referring to the blowing by of Tropical Storm Isaac earlier in the week.

— Carol Druga — Twitter http://twitter.com/Droogs66

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QUICKQUOTE: JEB ON GEORGE

"Mr. President, it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked." — Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, after praising his brother, former President George W. Bush.

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REAGAN REDUX

Ronald Reagan is at the Republican National Convention once again — if merely in spirit.

As the final session began Thursday night, a nostalgic Reagan video backed by music and sentimental imagery summoned the way the conservatives have framed his legacy. "As we continue our journey we think of those who traveled before us," Reagan's voice said over clips of war veterans and families. In a montage of images that ranged from space shuttles to Sandra Day O'Connor, his narrative was repackaged and re-offered to conservatives 23 years after he left office and eight years after he died. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," Reagan said once again Thursday night.

There's no more potent image for the Republicans to summon, of course. This is a man who is the most towering icon of modern conservatism. When Reagan is brought out, it's always about imagery and implied GOP renewal — about a "springtime of hope" and the notion of America as the shining city on the hill.

Then the music swelled and faded, the video ended and two fresh speakers walked on stage: Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista.

— Ted Anthony — Twitter http://www.twitter.com/anthonyted

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QUICKQUOTE: RENEWAL

"It's not about the past. It's not about what was done wrong. It's not about blaming America. It's quite the opposite. Tonight we embark on a renewal of the American dream." — U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla.

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WHAT'S OBAMA DOING?

White House spokesman Jay Carney says Obama is "fully aware" of the happenings at the Republican convention in Tampa this week. But he says he doesn't think the president watched Paul Ryan's speech Wednesday night, nor does he know whether Obama will watch Romney address the GOP convention Thursday.

Carney didn't say whether he thought Ryan's speech was factually accurate. But he criticized Romney's campaign more broadly for distorting Obama's record and policy positions in speeches and advertisements.

"Perhaps when the facts aren't on your side, you ignore the facts," Carney says.

— Julie Pace — Twitter http://twitter.com/JPaceDC

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HIGH-SPEED RAIL

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is all smiles, happy that so far his city has avoided widespread confrontations and arrests that have marred other conventions.

But that doesn't mean he's pleased with everything.

Buckhorn, a Democrat, used his daily press briefing to argue Tampa needs more mass transit options to build from the "worldwide" exposure it got during the convention.

In early 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott turned down a federal grant to help build a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. The Republican governor argued the state would wind up spending more than anticipated because it would cost more than initially projected.

Buckhorn took a swipe at Scott by noting that Detroit's mayor had thanked him recently because high-speed rail money once destined for Florida was redirected to other states and cities.

Gary Fineout — Twitter http://twitter.com/fineout

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POLICE-PROTESTER LOVE?

As the Republican National Convention wears on, protesters are getting worn out.

The busloads of protesters — who are staying at a makeshift camp dubbed "Romneyville" — have seen their food and water supplies dwindle. Law enforcement has noticed, as well.

So on Thursday morning, police brought boxed lunches of sandwiches, fruits and ice-cold water to Romneyville. Chief Jane Castor said police had extra food, so they decided to donate it rather than throw it out.

Castor, during a morning news conference, said simply: "We're here to serve the public."

— Tamara Lush — Twitter http://twitter.com/tamaralush

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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 may 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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ROMNEY PREVIEW

In his big speech, Mitt Romney will make a direct appeal to voters who felt excited to cast a ballot for Barack Obama four years ago.

"If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now that he's President Obama?" Romney says in excerpts released before his Thursday night speech. "You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president when the best feeling you had, was the day you voted for him."

You've been let down, Romney's telling former Obama voters, by a presidency that lapsed into disappointment and division.

"Many Americans have given up on this president, but they haven't ever thought about giving up," Romney says. "Not on themselves. Not on each other. And not on America."

Riffing on Obama's 2008 catchphrase, "Yes we can," Romney plans to tell Americans, "Now is the moment when we CAN do something."

What can Americans do, according to Romney? Vote for him.

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

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POLITICAL FOOTBALL

There may be large swaths of a Republican stronghold otherwise occupied during Mitt Romney's big speech Thursday night. College football debuts at the same time, and that can trump anything else on TV, especially in the pigskin-crazy South.

The marquee matchup happens down in Tennessee, with Steve Spurrier's No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks taking on the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville at 7 p.m. EDT. But the GOP probably isn't worried about losing interest or votes in either South Carolina or Tennessee, both of which are normally reliable Republican states in presidential contests.

— Jesse J. Holland — Twitter http://twitter.com/jessejholland

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Follow AP journalists on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

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