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U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and Republican vice-presidential candidate U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) are greeted at the airport in Waterford, Michigan August 24, 2012. (Brian Snyder/REUTERS)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and Republican vice-presidential candidate U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) are greeted at the airport in Waterford, Michigan August 24, 2012. (Brian Snyder/REUTERS)

GOP faces its next battle: Getting primetime coverage on network television Add to ...

What’s more important to the fate of the nation: a re-run of Hawaii Five-O or the first national speech by a potential First Lady?

That, in essence, is the question top campaign strategists for Republican nominee Mitt Romney are asking as the U.S. broadcast networks plan to stick to regular programming on Monday night instead of offering live coverage of Ann Romney’s convention speech.

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Already threatened by tropical storm Isaac and the Todd Akin controversy, the Republican National Convention now has to contend with the refusal of ABC, CBS and NBC to broadcast the event live on opening night Monday in Tampa, Florida.

In a Friday morning conference call with reporters, Romney campaign official Russ Schriefer urged the networks to do “the right thing” and cover Ms. Romney’s speech.

“We’re still optimistic, hoping the networks will change their mind and cover Monday night,” Mr. Schriefer said. “I’m optimistic that the right thing will be done.”

The address by Ann Romney is part of an elaborately planned effort by Romney strategists to reintroduce the Republican nominee to the American public at the convention. After months of being portrayed as an out-of-touch millionaire, the convention offers Mr. Romney an opportunity to tell his life story on his own terms.

Ms. Romney’s speech will be particularly important in casting her husband in a more favourable light among female voters. The latter may have been further turned off the Republican brand this week following Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin’s assertion that “legitimate” rape victims can physically reject an unwanted pregnancy.

Without coverage by the major networks, however, the audience for Ms. Romney’s speech is likely to be a fraction of its potential. The main networks plan to stream the convention on their web sites, while cable news networks will broadcast Ms. Romney’s speech live. But online and cable viewers still make up only a small chunk of voters.

The main networks are planning to devote only an hour of primetime coverage to the Republican convention on each of the following three nights, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The reason is that the Democratic National Convention the following week in Charlotte, N.C. is only a three-day affair. To ensure each gets equal airtime, the networks are cutting back coverage of the RNC.

But the decision also reflects the desire of the cash-strapped networks to preserve the advertising revenue they get from their Monday night shows, including as Hawaii Five-O (CBS), Grimm (NBC) and Castle (ABC).

Mr. Schriefer said he understood the networks’ desire to give equal airtime to each convention. But he added he found it “puzzling” why “everyone has to cover the same three nights.”

For now, Mr. Schriefer said convention organizers are sticking to the original schedule. Moving Ms. Romney’s speech to Tuesday night, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is to give the keynote address, would mean bumping another speaker out of primetime.

In the conference call, Mr. Schriefer also announced that a film about libertarian Congressman Ron Paul will be shown to convention delegates on Tuesday night. The tribute “will give testimony to his principles and dedication to America.”

Mr. Romney’s former rival for the Republican nomination, Mr. Paul, 77, is retiring from Congress at the end of the year. But his supporters remain an important force in Republican politics. The Romney campaign is keen to keep them onside.

Mr. Paul’s son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, has also been given a speaking slot at the convention. His address is scheduled for early Monday evening.

 

Follow on Twitter: @konradyakabuski

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