With the warm-up acts over, Mitt Romney will face the Republican National Convention and the country today, determined finally to put away the caricature critiques of him as a disconnected and robotic flip-flopper and, instead, project himself as a man of conviction who is ready to lead the American people.
Demystifying the former private equity fund tycoon and Massachusetts Governor has been at the heart of the storm-curtailed three-day Republican gathering in Tampa.
However, it will be for Romney himself to peel away the last of the wrapping that has so encumbered him in his six-year slog for his party's presidential nomination that began with his failed attempt in 2008. It will include, aides say, his first public comments about his Mormon religion.
Party discipline dictates that when the speech, watched by much of the United States on TV, is done and the balloons fall from the rafters of the Tampa Times Forum, the applause in the hall must be unstinting. Only the three debates with President Barack Obama in October might be more important in determining whether Romney can convert what appears to be a fighting chance of victory in the election in November into the real thing.
"People are looking for someone they can believe in and they can trust to lead," said Caleb Hayes, 22, a delegate from Kansas, a state that came out for conservative Rick Santorum in caucus voting earlier this year. He and his fellow delegates are now obediently with Romney. "I think he can come across as that person."
The decision to directly address his Mormonism, which aides say Romney has taken himself, is striking. It was a taboo issue for the campaign until two weekends ago when reporters were invited to join the candidate for Sunday worship. Speaking of the time she and her husband first dated, Ann Romney noted in Tampa on Wednesday: "I was an Episcopalian; he was a Mormon." It was the first time any family member had spoken the word.
Not only will Romney speak of his religion, amplifying shared values of charity and compassion with other Christian voters, but the stage will be given intermittently to friends and associates who will testify to his work as a Mormon bishop in Boston.
"It's something that the Governor himself insisted on talking about," top Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom said.
"He will make reference to it in his speech and he will hear from other speakers at the conventions about the counselling and pastoral work that Mitt Romney did."
Ben Sauceda, 29, an associate Baptist pastor from Wichita, Kansas, also voted for Santorum in the caucuses because of his views on marriage and abortion but says he embraced Romney when he chose Paul Ryan from the party's right for the ticket. "It showed me he will put America on the right track to end the fiscal insanity and that he will protect those issues that are important to me as a social conservative."
It will fall to Marco Rubio, the popular Hispanic US senator from Florida, to introduce Romney. In a meeting with delegates earlier, he, too, referred to religion.
He predicted that the likeability gap between Romney and Obama that has shown up in the polls will narrow after the convention's close.
"He offers a very different view of the future than the current President does."
- IndependentBy David Usborne