The Republican National Convention officially convened on Monday afternoon for a perfunctory two-minute session, but the main event starts Tuesday. Shortened from four days to three thanks to Tropical Storm Isaac, the convention is packing a lot of business and partisan pleasure into the next few days. From the opening gavel to the closing benediction, here's a guide to what's worth paying attention to at Mitt Romney's big rollout as the official Republican nominee, what you can safely ignore, and how to watch any (or all) of the convention:
What's the point of the convention?
The main purpose of the convention is to officially nominate the Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates, and Romney and Paul Ryan will be officially confirmed in those roles by a majority of delegates on Tuesday evening before 6:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. But let's be honest: Much of the convention will be eye-glazingly dull for all but the most devoted political junkies — speeches by minor party dignitaries, votes on rules and resolutions, and various bits of party housekeeping. That said, starting at about 7:30 pm EDT on Tuesday, the bigger-name Republicans will start delivering speeches and showing videos that are largely aimed at an audience outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Those big speeches will be the convention's main features on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening.
When is Romney speaking?
Romney will accept the nomination and deliver his big speech a little bit after 10 p.m. EDT on Thursday, after an introduction from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Dramatically and thematically, Romney's address is the focal point of the convention — everything is supposed to lead up to him agreeing to be his party's nominee and laying out his sales pitch to the nation.
Who's delivering the other big speeches?
"The most anticipated speech of the convention — and yes, we are including Romney's acceptance speech in that calculation — will be delivered by the Florida senator, Rubio," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. Rubio, who speaks at 10 p.m. Thursday, leads the pack of rising GOP stars making their splashy national debut, rivaled only by tough-talking New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who's giving the keynote address on Tuesday in the 10 p.m. EDT hour. Right before Christie is another eagerly anticipated speech — this one from Romney's wife, Ann Romney. Her job, according to political analysts, is to counter the Democrats' caricature of Mitt as a stiff, greedy financial raider. Another must-see speaker: Paul Ryan, who follows former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez in the 10 p.m. EDT hour on Wednesday.
Any other speakers that might wow us?
Romney's final primary rival, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), won't speak at the convention, but the devoted Paul faction of delegates will be watching to see what son Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says in the 7 p.m. EDT hour on Wednesday, following a video of Ron Paul. Several other former Romney rivals will also speak: Rick Santorum (7 p.m. Tuesday), Tim Pawlenty (9 p.m. Wednesday), and Newt Gingrich (7 p.m. Thursday). There are also up-and-comers of note: Utah congressional candidate Mia Love (7 p.m. Tuesday), Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz (9 p.m. Tuesday), and Gov. Martinez (10 p.m. Wednesday). Here's the full schedule.
Will it all be shown on TV?
No. ABC, NBC, and CBS will only broadcast the 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. speeches on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. PBS will begin its coverage at 8 p.m. each night. The big three cable news channels — CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC — will devote a lot more airtime to the convention, running intermittent coverage and commentary from the Tuesday opening until Thursday's final gavel. Current TV will cover most of the convention, hosted by former Vice President Al Gore, and Comedy Central's The Daily Show has relocated to Tampa for the week.
Is there any way to watch all of the convention?
Yes. From live streaming video of the entire convention to curated Twitter streams and special interactive features, the Tampa convention "will be covered online like few political events before," says Janko Roettgers at GigaOm. The RNC is offering its own live stream on YouTube, plus a bunch of interactive features through its "Convention Without Walls" Facebook app, but you can also watch the convention unfold live online at Politico, ABC News, PBS NewsHour, Fox News, and The Wall Street Journal — in fact, many of these sites have multiple simultaneous live streams, available for viewing on your computer, smartphone, or tablet (you can watch ABC's three feeds at the same time via an iPad app). You can even watch a live feed of the anti-RNC protests, courtesy of Occupy Tampa, or real-time fact-checking from the Sunlight Foundation.
Check out the full convention schedule here.