Tampa, Florida - After a bitter, months-long campaign grind, US Republicans meet here next week to crown Mitt Romney the nominee to challenge President Barack Obama for the White House in November.
To be sure, the splashy gala will have its share of red, white and blue confetti and balloons, lavish parties and back-room dealmaking, all part of the patriotism and pageantry of choosing an American presidential candidate.
But the 40th Republican National Convention taking place August 27-30 in the battleground state of Florida will be a political pressure-cooker, where Romney will need to buff his image as an accomplished executive, tactful economic repairman, skilled orator and dedicated man of faith and family.
In short he needs to convince Americans, many of whom see Romney as a wealthy businessman who lacks a touch with everyday voters, that the country would be better off jettisoning Obama and going with the Republican alternative for the next four years.
“This is our moment,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said Thursday.
“The convention is the time when many voters truly tune in,” he added. “The summer is over, the election is on the horizon and now they want to know what we have to say.”
Voters have yet to fully embrace the Romney message, despite record spending on campaign ads and clear frustration among some supporters of the president who see him falling short of the hope and change he touted in 2008.
While Obama has been unable to get the sluggish economy out of its slow-growth trajectory, Romney Ä the former governor of Massachusetts Ä is trailing in the polls.
Earlier this month he unveiled his vice presidential running mate, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, 42, which led to a modest bump in support.
Romney, 65, has been under fire from core conservatives who see him as a flip-flopper on social issues, and choosing pro-life conservative Ryan could provide the ticket with ideological clarity.
But aside from rallying the base, Romney must appeal to independent voters as well, particularly those in swing states.
Obama is ahead nationally by 1.4 percent, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls. And in a majority of the key battlegrounds, such as Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia, Romney is lagging slightly behind.
The convention is a chance to try to turn that around, “an opportunity for Romney to reboot his image with people who have never seen his message on his terms,” explained Jonathan Collegio of American Crossroads GPS, a pro-Romney political action group.
Among Tampa's 50,000 attendees, the convention will feature 2,286 delegates and 2,125 alternates, from all 50 states, the capital Washington and five US territories.
Delegates cast their votes for president Monday during the “roll call of the states.”
Romney emerged victorious in May from a hard-fought five-month Republican primary battle this year against more than half a dozen other candidates.
Despite divisions between Romney, former senator Rick Santorum and other Republican rivals, party leaders will be stressing unity at the convention and in the 10 weeks leading up to the November 6
But a problem lingers in the form of Todd Akin, the conservative Missouri congressman who caused an uproar when he said a woman's body can prevent pregnancy in cases of rape.
Romney, aware of his struggle to attract women voters, led Republican calls for Akin to stand down from his Senate race, but he has refused.
Another storm is brewing Ä a literal one, in the form of Tropical Storm Isaac, which is forecast to roar ashore in Florida on Monday as a hurricane, potentially flooding Tampa.
City officials have urged residents to prepare for the worst, and Priebus has expressed concern about the storm but insisted the show will go on.
On Monday the convention hears from the nominee's wife Ann Romney. Tuesday will see speeches by Santorum, one of the vanquished in the primary race, and New Jersey's garrulous Governor Chris Christie.
Wednesday features former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and 2008 nominee Senator John McCain, followed by Ryan.
Romney, to be introduced by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, will officially be nominated Thursday, when he will give the biggest speech of his political career.
The Internet and the surge in social media like Twitter has changed the political landscape. The convention will be swarming with some 15,000 journalists, many who will be tweeting and posting material online.
While US networks will mostly limit live coverage to prime-time speeches, several media outlets promise wall-to-wall online streaming.
Organizers have converted the Tampa Bay Times Forum into a space they believe will help make Romney appear more personable.
Despite a high-tech backdrop with 13 large screens, the stage area is being done up to look like a cozy American living room. - Sapa-AFP