Mitt Romney’s defining moment — ready or not

John Parisella looks at what’s at stake in Tampa

Mitt Romney will soon step on the podium to accept the Republican nomination to try to become the next president of the United States. In and of itself, this is no small feat. If he succeeds, he’ll become the first Mormon to occupy the White House — again, no small achievement for a party with a strong Christian bent. Some Christian leaders in the GOP have referred to Mormonism as a cult, which explains why Romney rarely raises his religious affiliation.

By the time he speaks live to millions of Americans, pundits and speakers will have introduced him as son of former Michigan Governor George Romney, successful corporate executive at Bain Capital, effective savior of the Salt Lake City Olympics, one-term moderate Governor of Massachusetts, and devoted family man.

After a rather difficult primary system, the convention will be Romney’s best opportunity to reintroduce himself to voters.

By week’s end, Republicans hope voters will have a better grasp of “the real Mitt Romney.” It is amazing questions remain about a public figure who has been in public domain for about 20 years. Romney has been in the political arena since 1994 when he challenged Senator Edward Kennedy in the Massachusetts Senatorial race. He left the Massachusetts governorship in 2006 to run for the Republican nomination in 2008, but was eliminated early by John McCain.

It became obvious when he chose to run in 2011 that he had learned from his failed presidential bid. Soon he was the first runner. Well organized, better financed, he resolutely shifted his political discourse more to the right of some of his principal challengers to appeal to the party base. He also established distance from his signature achievement on health-care reform in Massachusetts.

Problems became obvious during the early primaries. He ran in a weak field that failed to improve his performance. At the same time, he decided to promote views that moved him to the right of where he had been positioned, raising doubts about his authenticity. The new Mitt Romney, increasingly hard to define, barely resembled the one who served as governor of Massachusetts.

Throughout the primary season, Romney’s visible discomfort reinforced the perception that he has few real core beliefs compared to a candidate like Rick Santorum. The race lasted longer than it should have, in part because of new GOP primary rules, but also because Romney never seemed to gain traction. At the end of the day, Romney didn’t seem to grow as a candidate.

After he clinched the nomination numbers in May, the Obama campaign attacked his record at Bain Capital, challenged his narrative as a job creator and pushed him on tax returns. A botched foreign trip only added to his woes.

The Republican National Convention should be his defining moment. A strong convention performance will give him a temporary bounce. He remains competitive in national polls and with a sluggish economy, he could be in the lead by the time of President Obama’s nomination convention next week in Charlotte. If so, will it last into the debate season in late September?

Will voters be seduced by a new, more personal Mitt Romney?  Or will the Republican brand, more to the right than at any time in its history, overshadow the efforts to present a more authentic nominee and compelling leader? Questions remain about Romney, his personal finances and his core beliefs, but how he handles this defining moment will have a lot to do with if he succeeds in November.

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