Mitt Romney has his work cut out for him, says Adam Nagourney at The New York Times. As GOP delegates gather in Tampa for their national convention, the presumptive nominee has to to both rev up and unify the "increasingly disparate coalition of factions known as the Republican Party." On top of that, Romney also has to sell his campaign message to the sliver of persuadable voters who are just now starting to tune in to this long, long presidential race — and thanks to (soon-to-be) Hurricane Isaac, he only has three days to do all that, instead of the scheduled four. Here are seven factors that will help determine whether the RNC is a campaign-boosting success or a politically deflating debacle:
1. The wild card: Hurricane Isaac
Convention planners have worked hard to make the partisan extravaganza "incredibly scripted and drained of any real drama," but they can't control Mother Nature, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. Isaac has already damaged the RNC by crimping Romney's big launch party into three days, but the real danger to the GOP is that the hurricane — now forecast to make landfall as far west as New Orleans — could be a Katrina-like doozy, topping the RNC as a news story nationwide. And "that split-screen phenomenon goes double — at least — for Florida." The best case for Team Romney is that Isaac fizzles at sea.
2. Romney's acceptance speech
As big as the weather is, says Cillizza, "the most important moment of the convention is, was, and always will be Romney's acceptance speech on Thursday." What he "says (and doesn't say)," and how it's received, "will determine whether the convention was a success for the party and their nominee or not." Romney has to pack a lot into that one speech, says Charles Mahtesian at Politico. He has to "seal the deal with a party" that doesn't love him and "show the nation he amounts to something other than the caricature painted by Democratic ads." Still, if he can do just one thing — persuade Americans that the sluggish economy is Obama's fault — "his road to the White House gets easier."
3. Paul Ryan's national debut
Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has a big job, and a tough act to follow — and it's not the speaker, Gov. Susana Martinez (R-N.M), who precedes him on Wednesday. No, the question on everyone's mind is: "What can Paul Ryan do to top Sarah Palin's 2008 convention speech?" says Dan Balz at The Washington Post. Palin's red-meat-filled stem-winder was "a breakout moment" that "turned her into a political star." Ryan "isn't likely to blow the doors off the convention like Sarah Palin," says Politico's Mahtesian, but he doesn't have to, entirely. The policy-focused Ryan's big test is to make a good first impression on voters. But he also has to fire up the Romney-skeptical grassroots, and that's where a few Palin-esque "partisan zingers would prove helpful," if in fact "he's got those moves."
4. The Ron Paul factor
Romney's last GOP primary challenger, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), isn't speaking at the RNC — he declined an invitation, he tells The New York Times, because he didn't like Romney's conditions: His full endorsement and his speech had to be vetted. "It wouldn't be my speech," Paul said. "I don't fully endorse him for president." But Paul, who's retiring this year, had his Tampa moment, addressing some 10,000 supporters on Sunday at a rival convention. Paul is discouraging his slate of delegates from disrupting the RNC — where his son Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) is speaking — but his "bitter" supporters may not play along, says Rosie Gray at BuzzFeed. The RNC isn't taking any chances, deputizing the California delegation as Paulite-quashers. But this is the "Ron Paul Revolution's" last stand, says Mahtesian, and "it seems naïve to think all of those activists are coming to Tampa to willingly participate in a Romney coronation."
5. Will Chris Christie overshadow Romney?
One of the few unknowns about the convention, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post, is "which speaker not on the ticket will steal some limelight (I'll put money on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie)." The self-promoting Christie, who's delivering the keynote address, is already gearing up to make his presence felt, says Matt Katz at the Philadelphia Inquirer, setting up a Tumblr page with snapshots and video of him practicing the speech, plus a convention-specific Twitter feed. "Christie is fully capable of stealing the limelight — and of overplaying his hand," says The Washington Post's Balz. "Blunt talk comes naturally" to him, and his typical harsh takedowns of Obama would play better with the delegates than Romney's more measured speech, at least inside the RNC arena.
6. Will Marco Rubio win over Latinos?
At least as interesting as seeing "how much Christie talks about himself... and how much time he spends touting Mitt Romney," says The Washington Post's Cillizza, will be watching Rubio's big-stage debut. Given that the freshman Florida senator is on his home turf, he's "likely to get a rock-star reception from the crowd no matter how good (or bad) his speech actually is." But whether he delivers a masterpiece that sets him up, Obama-like, for a 2016 or 2020 national run, or falls grossly short of high expectations, there's a lot riding on his speech for him, and for his party. "Republicans desperately need to find a way to appeal to the country's rapidly growing Hispanic community, and Rubio is probably their best chance to do that going forward."
7. Will the media focus on social issues?
"Just as interesting as the Republicans will be the media," says The Washington Post's Rubin. Reporters won't be there to "observe or to report, but to shape, massage, and even distort what is said and done." Republicans will focus on the economy, but it's a good bet that the media "will talk about abortion much more than will any speaker," arguing that Romney failed in his attempts to become "humanized." Don't blame the media, says Jonathan Bernstein at The Washington Post. Romney, after all, is the one who stepped on his all-economy-all-the-time message by cracking a lame "birther joke" the Friday before his convention. If he wanted to be the likable policy guy, baiting the media with an "out of bounds" joke "is hardly going to be helpful."