Republicans have moved into the ritual of formally nominating Mitt Romney as their candidate to unseat president Barack Obama, anxiously watching a storm threatening to hit New Orleans just as the first political speeches begin.
Mr Romney’s wife, Ann, will be among the speakers, and she will show a more personal side of a candidate the Obama campaign has tried to paint as a big business titan out of touch with the struggles of average Americans.
Polls show Mr Romney and Mr Obama running about even, but each man holds significant leads with voters in important subtexts that could sway the roughly 10% of Americans who say they have not settled yet on one man or the other.
Mr Obama holds a big lead as the candidate who best relates to the needs of poor and middle-class Americans. That an advantage could come into sharper focus as Tropical Storm Isaac moves slowly toward the US Gulf Coast.
It has resurrected the ghost of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and killed 1,800 people exactly seven years ago. The slow response to the chaos put the presidency of Republican George W. Bush into a downward political spiral.
Partisanship had not subsided with Isaac’s gathering strength. Republicans were determined to play to Mr Romney’s strengths this week. He is more highly regarded as the candidate who can restore the economy, the top issue for voters
Ultimately, it will be up to Mr Romney himself “to let the American people see who he is,” said New Jersey’s colourful governor, Chris Christie, who delivers the key address.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders will try to convince Americans that Mr Obama is a failed president, unable to keep his promise to restore economic vitality and reduce stubbornly high unemployment.
Ann Romney’s speech will be an important part of the party’s effort to present her husband as more than a successful businessman and former governor of Massachusetts.
Mr Romney’s candidacy has received only lacklustre enthusiasm among some Republicans who question his commitment to conservative positions given his more moderate stances on abortion, gay rights and gun control as governor of Massachusetts, a liberal, traditionally Democratic state.
Republicans are increasingly energised and influenced by the anti-tax, small-government tea party movement, whose members tend to see political moderation and compromise as akin to betrayal.
But Mr Romney thrilled conservatives by naming one of their favourites, congressman Paul Ryan, as his vice presidential running mate.
The convention offers Mr Romney a chance to shore up his support among social conservatives in the party’s base.
Mr Romney’s acceptance speech on Thursday will be the highlight of the convention.
The Republican gathering is followed by next week’s Democratic convention. Mr Obama and his party will intensify attacks on Mr Romney’s business experience, claiming that the private equity firm he once headed, Bain Capital, made a fortune for investors while bankrupting some companies and laying off workers.