TAMPA, Fla. – After a rough start to a GOP National Convention delayed by a tropical storm, Republicans hoped to build momentum Tuesday evening with two high-profile speeches.
Republicans eagerly look to showcase Mitt Romney as a man who understands everyday Americans and a leader who can fix the economy, with convention speeches by the woman who knows him best, his wife, and tough-talking New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
But with New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast waiting fearfully to see where a massive storm makes landfall, politics became an awkward enterprise and no one knows what sort of party the GOP gathering will turn out to be.
After a one-day weather delay, the convention proceeds according to its latest script: delivering Romney the presidential nomination he fought years to achieve, calling the party to unify around him and setting the stage for the final stretch of the hotly contested campaign to unseat President Barack Obama.
Christie, who delivers Tuesday's keynote address, said that for those Americans who aren't yet sold on Romney, "you start turning it around tonight."
We need somebody who cares more about getting the job done than they care about being temporarily popular with any particular segment of our country.
In a round of morning talk-show appearances, Christie said Ann Romney would humanize her husband for the nation, and that his own speech would make the case for GOP economic policies and Romney as the fixer. But ultimately, Christie said, it will up to Romney himself "to let the American people see who he is."
Meeting with Michigan delegates, Christie insisted that an effective president trumps likeability.
"We need somebody who cares more about getting the job done than they care about being temporarily popular with any particular segment of our country," Christie said.
Christie has his own fan club.
"I just love him," said Sandy Barber, a delegate from rural northwest Ohio. "He's plain-talking. He's himself. He's someone who lets his personality come through."
Romney, Barber allowed, "is a different kind of personality. His personality exudes leadership."
Eager to counter Romney's economic pitch to middle-class voters, a super PAC supporting Obama unveiled an ad featuring a small business owner who criticized the candidate's record on job growth as Massachusetts governor.
The Romneys boarded a plane bound for Tampa, but it was a mystery whether the GOP candidate would attend the convention before his big address Thursday night. Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and his family, too, headed for Florida. Ryan delivers his speech Wednesday night.
Already in Tampa: a slew of GOP presidential also-rans: Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain posed for a photo after running into each other at the convention center, Cain joking that the caption could be: "We ain't mad. We support Mitt and Ryan." Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were on hand too, both with speaking slots.
The high campaign season opens with Romney and Obama about even in the last of the pre-convention polls, with each candidate possessing distinct and important advantages. The Democrat is the more likable or empathetic leader; the Republican is more highly regarded as the candidate who can restore the economy, the top issue for voters.
Ann Romney's convention speech was designed to speak to that divide. It was an important part of the GOP's effort to flesh out her husband and present him to the nation as more than a successful businessman and the former Republican governor of a Democratic state, Massachusetts.
She went about the business of humanizing the Romney family with a taped appearance on "CBS This Morning" in which she talked about the pain of a miscarriage, telling details about the experience that were news even to her husband. The Romneys have five sons.
Isaac, the intensifying tropical storm bordering on a hurricane, skirted Tampa, a big relief for convention organizers worried about the safety of the host city and GOP delegates. But they remain saddled with the question of how to proceed with a political festival — one devoted both to scoring points against Obama and firing up excitement for Romney — under the shadow of a dangerous storm crawling toward the Gulf Coast.
Tampa awoke to sunny skies Tuesday while convention planners monitored weather reports for the storm's impact on the Gulf Coast some seven years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.
In a reminder of both the storm and the presidency, Obama warned residents of the Gulf Coast to heed warnings from local officials and follow their directions as the storm approached. He delivered brief remarks from the White House.
Organizers essentially cut Monday from the schedule, calling the convention to order just long enough to recess it, and shoehorned their four-day showcase into the remaining three days. But even that was subject to change, depending on Isaac's whims.
Republicans plainly had more at stake in their convention week — Democrats meet next week in Charlotte, N.C. — but the Obama campaign also had to recalibrate its tactics as Gulf residents fled their homes or hunkered down. Vice President Joe Biden was called off a Romney-bashing trip to Florida.
That's not to say partisanship has subsided with Isaac's gathering strength. Hardly.
Obama headed to Iowa on Tuesday as the first stop on a campaign trip in which he will make a personal appeal to college voters in three university towns: Ames, Iowa; Fort Collins, Colo.; and Charlottesville, Va.
Awaiting the president in Iowa: An article in the Des Moines Register in which 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole called Romney and Ryan a "dream ticket."
The two "have a program to turn the economy around that is the most thoughtful and comprehensive I have seen in my lifetime, and I have seen a lot," wrote the 89-year-old Dole.
On Twitter Monday night, Obama circulated a quotation from Women's Health Magazine suggesting that Republicans would take away women's right to contraception, which the Romney campaign denies. "Crazy as it sounds, the fight to limit or even ban birth control is a key issue in the upcoming presidential election," it said.
In a sign of just how stage-managed these conventions have become, the never-dull Christie did something he rarely does before a speech — wrote down a full text — as he prepared to deliver the keynote address Tuesday night. "They want you to work off a full text and that's fine," he told MSNBC. "I think my challenge up there is gonna be to be natural and be myself."
An AP-GfK poll of registered voters conducted from Aug. 16-20 found Obama leading Romney 50 percent to 44 percent among women. That represented a narrowing of the gap by Romney since a survey in May, when the president led 54-39 among female voters.
Romney trailed badly among another key group. A Gallup poll taken between July 30 and Aug. 1 found Obama winning 60 percent support among Hispanic voters, and the Republican at 27 percent, little different from 64-29 earlier in the year.
Among seniors, the group most affected by a Medicare debate that has become central to the campaign, Romney led Obama by a margin of 52 percent to 42 percent in the recent AP-GfK poll. That was compared with 53-40 in May.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.