TAMPA – Tropical Storm Isaac is likely to be the last storm Mitt Romney must weather before accepting the Republican Party's presidential nomination here during the nearly week-long convention that serves to rally the base, introduce the candidate to the country and reward hardworking party insiders with partisan revelry.
Romney, the businessman turned Olympic Games savior turned Massachusetts governor, is scheduled to be officially nominated alongside his running-mate Paul Ryan on Tuesday afternoon—though he won't address the more than 5,000 party representatives and alternates and 15,000 members of the media until Thursday night.
His journey to this point wasn't easy, as he had to withstand a merry-go-round of rivals during the Republican Party primary earlier this year. At various points, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum all led the crowded field. Santorum—who attracted support from Christian evangelicals and Tea Party-types distrustful of the Mormon Romney—is the only primary rival who will speak during the convention. He's scheduled for a pre-primetime appearance on Tuesday.
The storm-abbreviated three days of formal festivities has been carefully orchestrated by GOP officials but lead by Romney's team, and is set to rollout the still-widely unfamiliar candidate to the American public. Most party insiders agree that Romney is likely to see a positive polling bounce if he is able to highlight his personal virtues and convince voters he has a credible plan that can pull the country out of its economic lethargy.
A lineup of top women surrogates, such as New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are all scheduled for high-profile addresses in hopes of helping Romney woo more women voters to his ticket. The GOP has long trailed Democrats among women voters, but recent flare-ups over reproductive rights has threatened to widen the gap.
Conservative favorite New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will rile up the audience on Tuesday night, giving the keynote address expected to throw lots of partisan red meat. Ryan, the economic wunderkind and Wisconsin congressman, is scheduled to speak on Wednesday and likely lay out policy visions for the potential administration.
Romney himself will take the stage on Thursday and is tasked with opening up his usually buttoned-down exterior to introduce voters to Mitt the man. He's expected to offer more details about his life as a family man and a man of Morman faith. His wife, Ann, will also have a strong hand in softening Romney's image with America during her own prime-time address on Tuesday.
The emphasis on Romney's image, balanced with a focused economic message, is meant to counteract the lingering problem holding the GOP frontrunner back from breaking away in the deadlocked race against President Barack Obama. Polling has consistently shown voters are disappointed with Obama's job with the economy, trust Romney to tackle the issue, but personally like Obama more. Romney's stiff exterior and tendency to put his foot in his mouth when he tries to speak off-the-cuff has plagued his political career.
But the convention is Romney's chance to shine and his last chance to introduce himself to American voters on his terms. Tapping Ryan as his running mate has served to fire up core conservatives who might otherwise have been less supportive of the ticket, and the hunger for change among the party faithful is clear among delegates here.
From 'Newt University,' a series of daily seminars led by the former House speaker, to floor action and the adoption of the party platform, to the general circus and celebratory atmosphere, the convention serves as an elixir to beleaguered partisans. Delegates and party officials are eager to knock Obama out of the White House and if Romney can ride out the rest of the electoral hurricane, he'll likely accomplish just that.