This convention has several potential flashpoints.
One is Romney himself. Many conservatives have long been suspicious of his commitment to their cause, and their reluctance allowed the primary and caucus season to drag on through the spring, as Romney had some trouble squelching challengers, most with little stature in the party.
The conservative qualms stem from Romney’s only time in office, governing Massachusetts from 2003-2007 as a center-right executive who championed the state law creating a near-universal health care system. That law was widely regarded as a model for the 2010 federal health can plan that Republicans hate – and that Romney eagerly wants to repeal.
Keith Appell, a Republican consultant, thought the Republican zeal to win back the White House – as well as polls saying the party has a reasonable chance – will leave convention-goers "exceptionally energized."
Not without some blips. Supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul plan a series of events to promote their candidate and his libertarian agenda, notably a noon rally Sunday at the University of South Florida’s 11,000-seat Sun Dome.
Paul, who has about 160 delegates, is unlikely to force much, if any, of a floor fight or debate over the platform – he doesn’t have the numbers – but he could get a lot of attention promoting views starkly different from those of Romney, such as ending what he calls the "dishonest, immoral and unconstitutional" Federal Reserve System. His son Rand, a Kentucky senator and hero to many conservatives, will address the convention.
Also lurking will be Romney’s other prominent challengers, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who got strong primary and caucus backing from diehard conservatives, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Both are known for off-the-cuff remarks that garner lots of media attention.
The Romney forces want the convention to become a narrative that builds over four days.
"Romney has to clarify his mission and lay out his vision from the start," said Republican consultant Bill Dal Col, "and end with a strong, powerful speech with a strong emotional tone to it."
The first chapter – on Obama – will be the easiest to communicate.
"In many ways, Obama is a president who doesn’t fit into the historical context," argued Sal Russo, a veteran Sacramento, Calif.-based Republican consultant.
Since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, presidents have boasted of their eagerness to shrink the size of government – and have been largely unsuccessful – while reducing dependence on its safety net. Obama has reversed that trend, Russo argued, instead proudly returning the government to its New Deal-Great Society role as the guarantor of income and opportunity, regardless of cost.
The second chapter of the convention story will promote the Romney-Ryan plan. An array of party stars – though not former President George W. Bush or 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin – will tout Romney’s blueprint for cutting marginal income tax rates 20 percent across the board, chopping the size of government to 20 percent of the economy – down from the current 24 percent – and changing how future seniors get health care coverage.
"They have to show they have an economic plan that will work, and connect to middle-class voters," said Mark McKinnon, a top adviser to George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns. That will be tricky, since the plan could involve ending some popular tax breaks, like the mortgage interest deduction, and dramatically changing Medicare.
There will be some mention of national defense and foreign policy, but probably not much. Romney’s July trip abroad was full of stumbles, and polls show those subjects are not high on most Americans’ lists. "You can’t talk about every issue," said Carney.
Finally, Romney and Ryan will try to seal the deal personally. Democrats have tried to paint Ryan, whose "Path to Prosperity" proposes dramatic changes in federal spending, as a heartless conservative eager to slash government spending without regard for human consequences. Ryan is figuring his boyish charm and matter-of-fact knack for explaining difficult concepts will prove appealing.
On Thursday night, Romney will stand alone before the American people and explain why he wants to be their 45th president.
"It’s kind of like the Olympics," said Carney. "You have all these trials, and people watch."
But it’s the finals that count and have the potential to be long remembered.
"You have to tell a good story," said Carney, "and the story has to have legs."