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Romney starts running in the face of the wind; The Republicans last night kicked off their three-day convention where they formally nominated Mitt Romney as presidential candidate. Here, Aled Blake assesses the challenges facing Mr Romney in his campaign to unseat President Barack Obama.

THE storm-shortened Republican National Convention is 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 the parties' nominees, US political conventions are now carefully orchestrated spectacles, with few surprises.

Mr Romney locked up the nomination months ago, so there was no mystery in the roll call of state delegates affirming his nomination.

Still, conventions are among the most closely watched events in the presidential 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 race.

And even the most carefullycrafted convention inevitably has surprises - such as the cancellation of the first day's activities on Monday because of what was then 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 has now reached hurricane strength and is due to 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 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. "And maybe you don't have the biggest balloon drop in history."

Mr Romney said he hoped those in the storm's path would be "spared any major destruction".

But he 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 lead in battleground states where the election is most likely to be decided.

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 advantage could come into sharper focus as Hurricane Isaac moves slowly toward the US Gulf Coast.

Partisanship has certainly not subsided with Isaac's gathering strength.

And 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 the nation's stubbornly high unemployment.

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, and 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 tomorrow will be the highlight of the convention.

CAPTION(S):

[bar] Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his wife Ann, and their grandson Joe, arrive at Tampa International Jet Center yesterday PICTURE: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Aug 29, 2012
Words:716
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