By Xinhua Writer Wang Fengfeng
TAMPA, the United States. Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Republican Party is convening their national convention Monday in Tampa, Florida, to nominate Mitt Romney as their standard bearer to challenge President Barack Obama in the coming presidential election.
Experts say the convention holds high stakes for Romney going forward, presenting him probably the best chance to connect with voters after being hammered relentlessly by the Obama campaign with negative ads.
"Romney has two big opportunities between now and the election to communicate" with voters, one is the convention, the other is at the debates, said Professor Peter Feaver, a political scientist with Duke University, "convention especially, because he has total control" over the message.
The Republican Party has rolled out a starred-studded roster of headliners to build up to Romney's nomination, speakers include conservative favorites such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former senator Rick Santorum, Senator Rand Paul and Romney's wife Ann. But the biggest moment will be Romney's acceptance speech, when he will present himself, as well as his vision of the future to the country.
"One of the points about a convention is it's the time when campaigns make their candidates look as presidential as they possibly can," said Feaver at a recent Washington briefing.
And presidential is what Romney needs to look like. Despite the sluggish economy, he has not been able to overtake Obama at the polls, and the race is still a dead heat.
"I am amazed and surprised that in some polls Obama is slightly ahead or not far behind in others. When economy is as bad as it is, I would expect to see Republican team doing much better than it is at this stage of the game," said Kerry Haynie, another political scientist with Duke University.
The convention represents Romney's best chance so far to turn this thing around. According to Gallup, party conventions typically bump presidential candidates' support numbers up by five percentage points.
In an interview with Xinhua, John Pickering, a political scientist with Lynn University, said he would expect two to three percentage points bump in polls nationally to Republicans going out of Tampa.
LIKABILITY AND DISTRACTIONS
Obama has stayed competitive despite the economy for a reason. His campaign has been relentlessly attacking Romney, spending over 100 million U.S. dollars in the three months since April in TV ads, most of the money was spent in July on negative ads pounding Romney. The campaign continued to outspend Romney in August in ads despite being outraised by the former Massachusetts governor.
William Galston, a politics expert with Brookings Institution, commented the strategy of the Obama campaign is to define Romney before he can do it himself, and the tactic clearly worked, with polls showing negative opinion of Romney persistently high.
In an interview with Xinhua, political commentator Dante Chinni said one of the main problems for Romney is that "people just don' t like him," with voters who hold negative opinion of him outnumber people who have a high opinion of him.
"And the reverse is true for Barack Obama," said Dante. "Even if people don't like the policies, they like Barack Obama, and that's a real problem for Romney."
The convention may be the opportunity for Romney to deal with likability issue, and put two-month worth of negative ad barrage of the other side to waste.
"In how he presents in front of the camera, and how he delivers the speech," said Haynie, Romney "has to look real," and he has to introduce his running mate Paul Ryan as a credible partner on the ticket.
Feaver agrees, he said if Romney "fails to connect this time, then he's in very serious trouble."
But there are things that may prevent Romney from staying on the message. One is the controversy brought up by Republican Representative Todd Akin from Missouri, whose remarks about how the female body can prevent itself from pregnancy after a " legitimate rape" has caused a national firestorm, rekindling the debate of abortion and other social issues in the election.
The controversy is not good for Romney, said Haynie, because " it keeps him away from the message that he wanted to (deliver to) the public. Having to talk about abortion and these issues takes away from opportunities to do what he needs to be doing, and time is running short."
Besides the controversy, the Romney campaign's plans for the convention may also be interrupted by Tropical Storm Isaac, which could distract national attention from Tampa.