TAMPA — Mitt's moment is finally here. But first here are seven questions Romney and his party will try to answer this week.
1 Can Mitt check all the boxes?
There may be one overarching theme to the election — the economy — but Romney has too many other pressing needs to zero in on a singular issue.
He'll stand before an audience filled with open-minded skeptics, with no quarter of the party wildly enamored of him but none at war with him either. The tea party will need to be persuaded that he has heard their voice. Social conservatives will need to hear that he understands what is most important to them.
He'll need to convince a party desperate to defeat Barack Obama that he's tough enough to topple the president. Yet at the same time, he is speaking to a national audience that will require the sharper edges of his message be sanded down.
Many of those viewers will have voted for Obama in 2008. And they'll need to be persuaded that the president himself is at fault for the sluggish economy. If Romney can do that, starting this week, his road to the White House gets easier.
2 Can they take down Obama without seeming mean?
Given the rank-and-file's antipathy toward Obama and the widespread belief among Republicans that he is taking the nation down a path of ruin, there will be great temptation among convention speakers to let it rip.
Yet the tone of the remarks is important. Polls continue to show that the president is not personally unpopular. And Obama's status as the nation's first African-American president also hasn't faded away, which suggests that a degree of sensitivity to perceptions might be prudent.
Those conditions, however, suggest that the convention could be open season on Joe Biden.
3 Can Tampa make Romney likable?
Romney's reluctance to reveal more of his human side — the part of his persona that friends say is nothing like the impression voters have of him — has created the need for a convention that animates his character. Though the gathering can't reverse the course of a campaign that has seen him portrayed as a callous capitalist, it can begin to fill in some of the humanizing details of his family life and background that voters aren't familiar with.
4 Who shines more: Christie or Rubio?
Few convention speakers will have as much to gain or lose as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
As keynote speaker, Christie has the more difficult charge: He must lay out a conservative vision of governance.
Christie's smash-mouth style is highly regional. His challenge will be to translate his New Jersey edge and fiscally conservative politics to a socially conservative party that's rooted in the South.
As for Rubio, who will introduce Romney, the trick will be to make sure the substance meets the hype. Nearly everyone in the arena will be expecting an address to match the electricity that his appearance will generate in the hall. To many on the right, he is the GOP's answer to Obama — youthful, inspiring and historic, a bridge from the party's present to its future. He needs to find a way to capture some of that, even though his main task is talking up Romney.
5 Can the GOP answer the "war on women" charge?
Republicans traditionally face a gender gap, but Romney's task is especially complicated. The idea of a GOP "war on women" is a central Democratic theme this year, and the recent controversy surrounding the remarks made by Missouri Rep. Todd Akin has exacerbated the situation.
With an upcoming Democratic convention stacked with female speakers and Romney trailing by double digits among women in some key states, the convention's message to female voters is critical.
6 Does Paul Ryan have a veep's right hook?
Okay, so the vice presidential nominee isn't likely to blow the doors off the convention the way Sarah Palin did with her 2008 speech. Still, he'll be delivering one of the most important — and highly anticipated — speeches in Tampa.
For all the hand-wringing among the operative class about his effect on GOP candidates, his selection as Romney's running mate was extremely well received at the grass roots level. And it's telling that, for all the potential political downside from his budget plan, there are few signs that GOP candidates are distancing themselves from him.
Ryan will need to talk about Medicare, but the acceptance speech is hardly the venue for a dive into policy. It calls for a more sweeping address designed to generate grass roots energy. A few partisan zingers would prove helpful on that count.
7 Can the party stay on script and out of trouble?
Pat Buchanan's flame-throwing "culture war" speech at the 1992 GOP convention caused enough consternation among Republicans that party officials went to some lengths in subsequent conventions to ensure that it didn't happen again.
This year isn't likely to be any different, but there's enough pent-up frustration in various quarters of the party to tempt a few speakers.
Within the confines of a tightly scripted convention, it's harder than ever to sneak explosive material through customs. But you can never be too sure.