GOP's convention plan: reintroduce Mitt Romney

patriotic preparations: Sandra Garcia, 17, left, and Daisy Santos, 17, pull down a huge bag of balloons inflated by Gaither High School students Friday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “I’m very proud,” Garcia said. “When they come down I’ll be able to say I blew up those balloons.”  More than 120,000 balloons were inflated for the iconic balloon drop on Thursday, the final night of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Video at links.tampabay.com.

KATHLEEN FLYNN l Times

patriotic preparations: Sandra Garcia, 17, left, and Daisy Santos, 17, pull down a huge bag of balloons inflated by Gaither High School students Friday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “I’m very proud,” Garcia said. “When they come down I’ll be able to say I blew up those balloons.” More than 120,000 balloons were inflated for the iconic balloon drop on Thursday, the final night of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Video at links.tampabay.com.

TAMPA — Now it's Mitt Romney's turn.

After months of being defined almost exclusively by his campaign as a businessman — and by opponents as an evil one — Romney will use the fresh tableau of the Republican National Convention next week to present Americans with a deeper and more personal portrait of himself, as a family man, a religious leader and someone whose executive experience reaches beyond the boardroom.

"It's critically important for voters to begin to see the human Mitt Romney," said Susie Wiles, a convention delegate from Ponte Vedra Beach. "The focus to date has all been on aptitude, accomplishments and resume. At the end of the day, voters want to like their president, too."

But with only days before the program begins Monday, officials were grappling Friday with a raft of unknowns triggered by Tropical Storm Isaac and the lack of prime-time network television coverage planned for the first day.

Romney officials late Friday announced that they were moving Ann Romney's scheduled Monday night speech to Tuesday to make sure she appeared on network television.

To fill Mrs. Romney's spot, officials moved former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush from Wednesday night to Monday. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will still speak Thursday, introducing the nominee.

The threat of Isaac faded somewhat Friday. But even if it strikes elsewhere than Tampa, convention planners face a difficult decision of whether to abbreviate the schedule, mindful of the optics of partying during a storm.

Romney officials Friday provided new detail on convention themes, including that members of the Mormon church would be featured as well as Olympic athletes. Together, they are designed to show off Romney's faith and his leadership in the 2002 games in Salt Lake City.

Tuesday's program will include a film tribute to Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas libertarian who attracted a loyal following during the GOP primaries. The concession, presented to the Romney campaign by Paul's supporters, is a way to avoid any disruptions to a smooth nomination.

"Gov. Romney and congressman Paul, while they certainly disagree on many issues, they have always had . . . a lot of mutual respect between the two of them," Romney campaign strategist Russ Schriefer said. "We know that not everybody is going to agree with us all the time, but we know that as a Republican Party that we're going to unite to beat Barack Obama in November."

Monday's focus is on Obama, the campaign said, and will highlight people who have been affected by the economy. As the convention progresses, it will focus on Romney and his proposals.

"You need to lay down the predicate and make the case of why President Obama has failed and why this administration has failed on many levels," Schriefer said.

Monday is also when the roll call of delegates will take place to formally nominate Romney, a process that has occurred later in past conventions. Schriefer tried to allay talk of a strategic move to circumvent Paul's supporters, noting the schedule had always called for a Monday roll call.

"Mostly it was a transportation issue," Schriefer said, noting how spread out hotels are in Tampa Bay. The roll call was set for Monday afternoon to save delegates a hassle, he added.

Romney will still accept the nomination Thursday, and at that time can begin spending general election campaign funds.

The decision by networks not to televise the first day of the convention rankled the Romney campaign, which hoped to use Ann Romney to begin process of humanizing the candidate.

She'll now do that Tuesday night.

Mrs. Romney, who fought off early stage breast cancer and has battled multiple sclerosis, has been one of her husband's best assets on the campaign trail, providing a warmth he sometimes lacks. The Romneys have five sons, who will also be featured.

Thursday is devoted to Romney. He will be joined by more than a dozen Olympians, including three who will speak to his leadership in the 2002 games: skeet shooting gold medalist Kim Rhode, speed skater Derek Parra, and Mike Eruzione, captain of the gold medal-winning 1980 ice hockey team.

There will also be members of the Mormon church who have been helped by Romney or served with him.

Romney has largely avoided talking about his faith, fearful of turning off evangelicals who are skeptical of the religion, but it also provides a window into his devotion and charity, and friends have encouraged him to be more open.

Romney has work to do. Despite the poor economy, he is locked in a tight race with Obama, and Romney arrives in Tampa with a higher unfavorable rating than favorable.

That heightens the stakes of the convention and the importance of selling his more personal side.

"We think at the end of the day, people are going to be more concerned about their jobs, their livelihood and their ability to make ends meet," Schriefer said. "That said, this convention is going to talk about Gov. Romney in all aspects of his life and really highlight his leadership skills. We think both of those things will help."

Times political editor Adam C. Smith and staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. Alex Leary can be reached at leary@tampabay.com.

GOP's convention plan: reintroduce Mitt Romney 08/24/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 12:38am]

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