Evan Vucci, File, Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney is about to get personal.
The GOP's presidential nominee-to-be wants to use his four-day party next week in Florida to play up his life story following a summer filled with a barrage of TV ads — courtesy of President Barack Obama and his allies — that cast him as a ruthless and out-of-touch businessman.
He'll surround himself with his five sons, five daughters-in-law and 15 of his 18 grandchildren. Romney's wife, Ann, will play her biggest role yet. A parade of athletes Romney met as an Olympic organizer, such as hockey legend Mike Eruzione, will be on hand. So will doting parishioners he helped as a lay pastor in the Mormon Church in Boston.
From the stagecraft to the speakers' roster, the agenda for the convention that starts Monday is carefully crafted toward one goal: introducing Romney to the country on his own terms while projecting him as the leader the country needs in tough economic times — and Obama as a failure on that front.
"We go to a convention and for the first time define Mitt a little bit better," said Ron Kaufman, a top Romney adviser.
Aides dismiss the notion that the former Massachusetts governor needs to repair a damaged image after a summer of negative ads and a recent string of missteps, including Friday when he waded into a debunked conspiracy theory by raising the issue of Obama's citizenship.
"No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate," Romney joked at a rally in the suburbs of Detroit while visiting his native state. "They know that this is the place that we were born and raised."
Just a day earlier, Romney caused himself another potential headache when he said big business was "doing fine" due to off-shore tax havens. It was a comment that echoed a claim similar to one he had criticized Obama for making, and it also reminded voters of Romney's own overseas accounts.
In the coming days, Romney's team will put the finishing touches on a program that — whether acknowledged by the campaign or not — is intended to turn the page from a difficult summer. Among his hiccups: a foreign trip marred by self-inflicted troubles.
The convention will be Romney's most consequential shot yet to send a precise message to Americans: that he has the experience and resolve to strengthen economy and the nation.
But Romney's challenge is that most people have an opinion about him. Just 8 percent of people in a new Associated Press-GfK poll say they don't know how they feel about him.
Romney's team appears undaunted.
"We look to tell all parts of the governor's story," said Russ Schriefer, a top Romney adviser who has overseen the details of the convention. "We can show that Gov. Romney is uniquely qualified to take on the problems that this country's facing."
The first three nights of the convention will be aimed at building the case against Obama — specifically on his stewardship on the economy — with speeches and videos featuring everyday Americans. Expect tough critiques from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan on Wednesday.
As Schriefer put it, the plan is to "lay down the predicate and make the case why President Obama has failed."
Come Thursday, Romney himself will take the elaborate stage — a Frank Lloyd Wright-styled set that Romney himself helped design — with a speech intended to show voters that he's serious and thoughtful. He will defend his business experience, discuss his time as a church pastor, and highlight his record at the 2002 winter Olympics.
He's spent the past year testing and sharpening the stories he will tell in front of smaller crowds, beginning in the primary campaign more than a year ago.
Before he takes the stage, beneficiaries of the counseling Romney did as a lay pastor in the church will give testimonials about him.
In the run-up to the convention, Romney has started telling his story in earnest.
He wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal this week explaining what he had learned as president and CEO of Bain Capital, a private equity firm he founded in Boston. The firm's dealings, including closed plants in key states, have provided fodder for Obama and Democrats.
Romney used the column to highlight the company's biggest successes. "A good idea is not enough for a business to succeed," he wrote. "It requires a talented team, a good business plan and capital to execute it."
The Romneys — married more than 40 years — also are featured in Sunday's issue of Parade magazine. And they sat together for an interview for Fox News Sunday during which Mrs. Romney makes pancakes. They were taping another interview Friday in the Detroit-area movie theater where they had their first date.
While Mrs. Romney was taking on a large role in the convention, it was unclear whether her speech would be covered by broadcast television networks. They are not planning to cover Monday night when she's scheduled to take the podium.
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