Are you better off than your were four years ago?
Much of the final night of the Republican National Convention the night that introduced nominee Mitt Romney to a great many Americans who are only now starting to pay attention to this year's presidential election was devoted to the memory of Ronald Reagan. So it makes sense that Romney's acceptance speech did much to channel the 40th president.
"Are you better off than you were four years ago?" was the memorable debate clincher for Reagan in 1980 when he successfully turned out a Democratic incumbent, Jimmy Carter, who, like Barack Obama, had arrived in Washington with much promise but, as the end of his term approached, was mired in a weak economy and poor poll numbers.
When his turn came Thursday, Romney put a similar question to the voters. He noted that Obama came into office promising hope and change and making people feel good about America's future. Now, he argues, not so much.
"You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president," Romney said of Obama, "when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him."
Not as pithy as Reagan, perhaps, but a fair point.
The job Romney had before him and still has, according to polling that never seems to move very much is to convince the American people that they should not simply be disappointed in Obama, but that they should follow through and give the reins of government to someone else.
Romney is no Ronald Reagan. His speech Thursday folksy, warm, sometimes funny was not a Reagan-like Shining City on a Hill moment. [Full text here.]
But the nominee did put the question before the electorate. Are we content to stay the course with the current administration? Or do we think that a change of management, something Romney specialized in during his years in the business sector, is what is needed?
Romney's remarks stuck to broad themes and goals, joyful in memory, optimistic about the future. It mostly avoided specifics derided by some as "factual shortcuts" and elsewhere as bald-faced lies that drew so much criticism of the speech the night before by running mate Paul Ryan.
The Romney who presented himself to the American people Thursday night, and who was described throughout the evening by former business partners, friends, fellow Mormons and Olympic athletes as a focused, compassionate and successful person on many levels, still has a good chance to make his case.
Just 65 days to Election Day.