The storm-shortened Republican National Convention which begins in earnest today will be a three-day coronation of Mitt Romney as the party’s rival to President Barack Obama.
Republicans will seek to use the high-profile stage in Tampa, Florida, to rally their base, win over undecided voters and humanise a candidate often seen as aloof and wooden.
Once the scene of dramatic floor fights and backroom deals that determined nominees, US political conventions are now carefully orchestrated spectacles with few surprises. Mr Romney locked up the nomination months ago so there will be no mystery in the roll call of state delegates affirming his nomination today.
Still, conventions are among the most closely watched events in the campaign, allowing candidates to lay out their visions directly to millions of TV viewers and marking the start of the final stretch in the marathon presidential race.
And even the most carefully-crafted convention inevitably has surprises – such as the cancellation of the first day’s activities yesterday because of Tropical Storm Isaac. Republican party chairman Reince Priebus gavelled the session to order, then immediately recessed it.
Although the storm no longer threatens Tampa, it could affect the convention - it could reach hurricane strength and make landfall along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast, forcing Mr Romney to share the spotlight.
Republicans may also have to scale down their celebration so they are not seen as partying as the storm barrels toward land.
Democrats have sought to cast Mr Romney and fellow Republicans as indifferent to the hardships of non-wealthy Americans and Republicans recall how President George Bush was roundly criticised for his handling of Hurricane Katrina in the same region that killed 1,800 people almost exactly seven years ago. Mr Bush is not attending the convention.
“You can tone down the happy-days-are-here-again a bit,” said Rich Galen, a veteran Republican consultant in Washington. “Maybe you don’t have the biggest balloon drop in history.”
Mr Romney said today that he hoped those in the storm’s path would be “spared any major destruction” but indicated there were no thoughts of cancelling the convention.
“We’ve got a great convention ahead,” he declared.
The Republican gathering, followed by next week’s Democratic convention, comes as opinion polls show the presidential race nearly even, although it appeared Mr Obama had a slim advantage in battleground states where the election is most likely to be decided.
Meanwhile Mr Romney has said he is in favour of abortion in cases of rape, incest and the health and life of the mother.
His addition of the health of the mother is certain to raise questions about his position among conservatives. Health can be broadly defined and, in fact, running mate Paul Ryan has challenged the health exception as a major loophole.
Mr Romney’s comments came in an interview with CBS News yesterday
Romney’s position on abortion rights has evolved. When he ran for the US Senate in Massachusetts, he backed abortion rights. But as a presidential candidate, he has opposed those rights and says the US Supreme Court should reverse the landmark Roe v Wade decision that legalised abortion.
In a statement, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Mr Romney’s position was clear – that he opposes abortion except for cases of rape, incest and where the life of the mother is threatened.