TAMPA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney goes before America this week with a historic opportunity to introduce and define himself to a nation weary of four years of economic anxiety and seriously considering voting him into the White House this fall.
Beginning this week at the Republican National Convention, and continuing through Romney’s prime-time speech Thursday accepting his party’s presidential nomination, Republicans will tell three stories to an audience that could number in the tens of millions.
They’ll describe their view that President Barack Obama has mismanaged and damaged an already fragile economy. They’ll describe how a government run on conservative principles can revive that economy. And they’ll trumpet how Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and running mate Paul Ryan are a peerless blend of business and government experience and acumen, uniquely qualified to lead that charge.
They’ll stand before a nation open to – and yearning for – a change in direction. Three out of four Americans think the country is on the wrong track. A majority says it’s worse off than four years ago. Unemployment has topped 8 percent since February 2009, the month after Obama took office. Economic growth has been tepid. Congress has been deadlocked and unable to tackle the ballooning federal debt, or much else. People will be listening for fresh ideas and trying to sense if Romney and Ryan have the smarts and the savvy to turn things around.
The convention officially opens its four-day run Monday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, but will quickly recess until Tuesday. Tropical Storm Isaac is threatening the area, and organizers decided Saturday to postpone major events until Tuesday. While no revised schedule has been announced, the convention’s 2,286 delegates are expected Tuesday to formally nominate the 65-year-old Romney.
That evening, the convention is scheduled to feature Romney’s wife, Ann, as well as the keynote address by blunt-spoken New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Ryan, a favorite of fiscal conservatives, will speak Wednesday. Romney will speak Thursday.
The Republicans will offer the kind of carefully scripted affair that’s been typical of party conventions for more than 30 years. The GOP conclave’s chief mission is to introduce Romney to a vast audience of voters who did not watch the Republican primaries – about 5 million to 6 million watched top primary debates this year, while nearly 40 million watched Republican nominee John McCain at his convention four years ago.
“You have all these surrogates who will talk about the convention at the water coolers, and that’s who you are playing to," said David Carney, President George H.W. Bush’s White House political director. "It’s not like you can have Chris Christie come to every town and give a speech."
No convention is without its stumbles. With as many as 15,000 media personnel looking for stories, there’s potential for all kinds of distractions. “Little fights can get significant media coverage," said Carney.
The Romney forces will be ready to pounce if things go awry. "We were on high alert for a guy in, say, Aisle 12, Section C, with a sign that reporters would notice and might embarrass us, and I’m sure the Romney people will be, too," said Curt Anderson, the Republican Party political director in 1996.