By John Whitesides
(Reuters) – Republicans on Tuesday open their convention to nominate Mitt Romney for the White House and make their argument to voters that President Barack Obama does not deserve a second term.
Here are a few things to look for during the convention in Tampa which will conclude with Romney’s nationally televised acceptance speech on Thursday night.
- Whether Tropical Storm Isaac overshadows the convention, dominating media coverage and obscuring the Republicans’ central message that Romney would do a better job than Obama of managing the economy. The storm forced convention organizers to cancel the first day of activities on Monday and scramble to reschedule the rest of the event. Isaac was expected to reach hurricane force by Tuesday and reach land by early Wednesday – the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans.
- How well Republicans introduce Romney to voters, and whether they like him any better afterward. Romney has had trouble connecting with the public, a failure magnified by a series of awkward moments on the campaign trail and exploited by Obama’s commercials emphasizing his challenger’s vast wealth.
A goal of the convention will be to introduce a more personal side of the former business executive, particularly on Thursday’s concluding night when he accepts the nomination.
Polls show Romney slightly trailing Obama heading into the gathering, which typically generates a poll bounce of a few points. The size and staying power of Romney’s bounce, and whether he can close the likability gap with Obama, will be a critical question for the Republican challenger.
- How big a splash does Chris Christie make? The pugnacious New Jersey governor’s keynote address on Tuesday night is likely to be heavy on red-meat rhetoric for conservatives, and a successful speech will have the crowd roaring and looking forward to a 2016 or 2020 Christie White House run. Can he live up to the expectations?
- Will Paul Ryan make a difference? The selection of the Wisconsin congressman as Romney’s running mate energized the party’s conservative base, which loves the chairman of the House Budget Committee’s plan to rein in government spending and shift Medicare, the popular health program for seniors, to a voucher program.
While polls have tightened in Wisconsin, the choice of Ryan has not dramatically changed the national picture. Most polls still show the Republican team slightly trailing Obama and his No. 2, Joe Biden, with voters roughly equally split on whether Ryan’s choice makes them more or less likely to back Romney.
The pick has put Medicare on the front burner of the campaign debate, however, and some Republicans worry the issue could hurt them in states with big senior populations like Florida. Ryan will speak on Wednesday night, and his speech and others will offer a clue about how heavily the Romney team plans to emphasize the issue.
- How much do we see of the losers? Romney has walked a fine line in accommodating some of his former Republican rivals for the nomination, most notably Ron Paul and his small army of devoted supporters.
Republicans will not give Paul, a libertarian Texas congressman, a speaking slot, but to appease his backers they will air a video tribute to him and let his son Rand, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, speak to the convention.
Convention organizers have worried that Paul’s backers will create a scene during the roll call vote to nominate Romney, which appears likely to be held on Tuesday.
Paul and his followers held their own rally away from the convention hall in Tampa on Sunday despite the storm.
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who was Romney’s last viable rival in the nominating race, was also given a speaking slot.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, an early White House dropout but a vice presidential finalist, is scheduled to speak. For now, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former pizza executive Herman Cain and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann are among others in the 2012 nominating fight who are not on the speaker’s list.
- How much mention is made of abortion? Republicans have desperately tried to distance themselves from Missouri Congressman Todd Akin’s statements about rape and abortion, a task made more difficult by the convention platform’s strict anti-abortion plank that makes no mention of exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
The platform is similar to those from past conventions, but Akin dramatically shifted the debate by telling an interviewer that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”
Akin has ignored rebukes from Romney and efforts to get him to withdraw from his U.S. Senate race against vulnerable incumbent Claire McCaskill, while Democrats have been quick to lump his comments and the party’s platform together as an example of the Republican’s so-called “War on Women.”