Aug. 26--TAMPA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney, the man who this week claims the Republican nomination that eluded his father more than a generation ago, remains in some ways an enigma to millions of Americans despite a term as governor of Massachusetts and back-to-back runs for the White House.
What is more, Romney carries the burden of historically low favorability ratings. Though voters surveyed in national polls fault President Obama for job performance, particularly on the economy, most like him personally more than they do Romney.
The Obama campaign has spent millions reinforcing negative impressions of Romney, depicting him in attack ads as an insensitive plutocrat who wants to wipe out the middle class for the benefit of his Wall Street cronies.
Now, with the Republican National Convention that opens here Monday, Romney has a chance to fight back and to reframe the race with 70 days to go.
Thousands of delegates, donors, and journalists arrived Saturday to a steamy city overhung with gray clouds pushed north by Tropical Storm Isaac, projected to hit the Florida Keys on Sunday as a hurricane. As workers put finishing touches on the massive stage in the Tampa Bay Times Forum arena, party officials announced that the convention would open Monday but recess until the next afternoon to make way for the storm.
For all of his challenges on "likability," and with women and Hispanic voters, Romney has an opening to exploit this week. He is still running neck-and-neck with Obama in both national polls and surveys of battleground states.
And once he formally accepts the nomination Thursday night, he and running mate Paul Ryan will no longer be bound by the primaries' spending limits and can begin using their hefty advantage over Obama in general-election cash.
Romney's strategists plan to use the occasion, perhaps their last chance to convey an unfiltered message, to try to convince voters that the former private-equity executive has the economic skills the nation needs to get out of its doldrums, whether they love the guy or not. Advisers also want to use the four days of convention programming to humanize Romney, who has found it hard to connect with people on the hustings.
"You also look at some polls that show Gov. Romney as being a far better steward of the economy than President Obama," said Russ Schriefer, a top strategist who is overseeing the convention for the campaign.
"We think at the end of the day people are going to be more concerned about jobs, their livelihoods and making ends meet -- that's what this election is going to be about, the kitchen-table issues," Schriefer said.
The first night's theme, he said, was to be the failures of the Obama administration. Schriefer said, "You need to lay down the predicate and make the case" for change.
"They can't just take on Obama," said Republican media strategist Michael Hudome, an adviser to John McCain in 2008. "People like Obama. Romney needs to be the mechanic. You know, people may not like their mechanic, but they need him when they have to get their car fixed. Whether or not people would invite him over for dinner, at the end, who cares?"
With such goals in mind, much of the convention is designed to show off Romney's qualifications, including job-creating success stories from his time at Bain Capital, and his role in turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City -- complete with testimonials from athletes.
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