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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and his wife Ann arrive at Brewster Academy in Wolfboro, New Hampshire August 27, 2012 to prepare for the Republican National Convention. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and his wife Ann arrive at Brewster Academy in Wolfboro, New Hampshire August 27, 2012 to prepare for the Republican National Convention. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)

GOP convention kicks off in earnest with eyes on Ann Romney, Chris Christie speeches Add to ...

After a brief delay, the curtain is about to rise on the Republican National Convention and the party is aiming for a blockbuster opening night.

For Mitt Romney, the stakes could not be higher. Just hours from now, his campaign will finally have the national spotlight it desires. Now it must seize that opportunity to show Americans who Mr. Romney will be as a leader.

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To carry that message, the campaign has picked two key emissaries for Tuesday night. Ann Romney will deliver a primetime speech whose goal is to render her husband – at times slightly stiff – as caring, engaging and principled.

Then Chris Christie, the straight-talking Republican governor of New Jersey, will deliver the convention’s keynote address. It’s a spot typically reserved for a rising star within the party who can articulate the challenges facing the nation and the good judgment of its nominee.

Mr. Romney, it appears, also feels a sense of urgency about Tuesday’s proceedings. The soon-to-be official nominee is due to arrive in Tampa today ahead of the evening’s key speeches. His own acceptance speech will close the convention on Thursday evening.

Faced with a tropical storm passing near Tampa, organizers postponed the event by a day, forcing them to hastily rearrange the schedule. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Isaac continues to power toward New Orleans. Forecasters believe it will strengthen into a hurricane and hit land late Tuesday, nearly seven years to the day after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Russ Schriefer, a spokesman for the Romney campaign, said that organizers were keeping close tabs on the storm’s progress but expected no further change to the convention schedule. “Obviously our thoughts are with the people in the path of the storm,” he said Monday.

The storm’s presence in the Gulf of Mexico requires a delicate balancing act by the Republican Party, which needs to show its concern for those affected but also kick off its convention in rousing style.

Organizers are hoping that some negotiations behind the scenes on Monday will avoid any outright display of dissent by different factions within the party. Delegates loyal to Ron Paul, the libertarian member of Congress from Texas, are angry over what they describe as moves by the Romney campaign to suppress their voices at the convention.

Tuesday’s session will get under way at 2 p.m. with some of the pageantry that has been missing so far from Tampa: a presentation of the flag, the national anthem, and later the roll call of the delegations from each state.

There will be speeches galore throughout the afternoon and extending late into the night. The speakers include both leading lights within the party and up-and-coming politicians like Mia Love, a Haitian-American who is running for Congress in Utah.

Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania and a rival of Mr. Romney’s for the presidential nomination, will also deliver a speech Tuesday. All of the speakers are expected to build upon the day’s theme – “We Built It” – responding to a quip by President Barack Obama. At a rally last month, the president told small business owners their success wasn’t theirs alone, remarking “You didn’t build that.”

The thousands of delegates and attendees in Tampa are eager for the convention action to begin after an unexpectedly quiet and rainy day Monday. Hundreds of protesters marched to an area within sight of the convention venue under a heavy police presence, calling for jobs, health care, education, and peace.

Mary Ann Akey, 51, works for a construction company and can’t afford to buy health insurance. She carried a sign reading, “We’re sick and tired… of being sick and tired. The 99 per cent.”

“This is a way of making my voice heard,” she said, lamenting the millions of dollars spent mounting the convention and providing security for the event. “It’s an antiquated system and there’s really no point.”

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