In Tampa, Florida, the work crews have moved in. The carpenters, riggers, electricians and others are pulling out seats and building platforms ready for the Republican Party Convention in five weeks.
Then the arena which is home to a middling ice hockey team will become the red, white and blue, flag festooned stage where Mitt Romney will launch the most important leg of his six year campaign for the US presidency.
The party convention is one of the big set piece events of the election year calendar. Here in Tampa, the former Massachusetts governor will formally accept the Republican nomination with a speech which should set the tone and the agenda for his run at the White House. When he walks off stage, he will spend every day until November 6th on the campaign trail.
Mitt Romney wants to arrive at the convention a more rounded candidate. And he wants to build momentum before the traditional lift television convention coverage gives to a candidate. And that partly explains his decision to make a swift swing abroad in the next week.
He’ll head to London for the Olympics. He has links with the competition and the organisation, which go back to when he was called in to save the scandal hit Salt Lake Winter Games. He also has a share in a horse which will compete in the dressage competition. He’ll take time to meet a number of senior British politicians including Prime Minister, David Cameron. It may be a slightly awkward meeting. While on the face of it, both share similar political ideals, Cameron has become a friend and ally of Romney’s opponent, Barack Obama.
From London, the Republican hopeful will travel to Israel. There he’ll meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, someone he’s known for years. He’s on record as being a strong supporter of Israel and its government. And that was before a Romney supporting independent political action committee took in a $10m donation from pro-Israel casino owner, Sheldon Adelson. He is likely to again express his concern about Iran’s nuclear power programme, but his attacks on the White House’s position is likely to be muted as there is a long standing tradition that American politicians don’t criticise the President while on foreign soil.
Romney will then wrap up his trip with a visit to Poland where he is expected to re-iterate his position that Russia remains America’s biggest geo-political foe. And he’s been critical of the Obama administration’s creeping co-operation with Russia which he believes has been bad for the likes of Poland.
When Barack Obama was running for office four years ago, he made several foreign trips and attracted huge crowds. In Berlin, Germany, 200,000 people turned out. Mitt Romney simply won’t generate that type of excitement.
The trip is a gamble for the Republican hopeful. On one hand, it takes him away from the weeks of questions about his tax affairs and foreign bank accounts. One comedian insisted Romney decided not to go to Switzerland “to visit his money”. But it also moves the focus away from the economy, which has been so far his strongest argument in the campaign. In turn, it gives the Obama campaign the chance to talk once more about national security issues, one area where his approval ratings remain strong thanks to the continuing legacy of the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden.
Romney has only spoken in broad brush terms about his foreign policy aims and those closest to him say there will be no big pronouncements this time around, instead it is a trip to listen and learn.
He will hope, however, the trip will give him the opportunity to appear as a world statesman and create some momentum behind a campaign which has stalled in recent weeks. When he returns, he’ll turn his attention to picking a vice presidential running mate, knowing the right choice could energise the Republican base and excite independent voters.
Then it’s on to Tampa and the convention. And from there – Mitt Romney hopes – to the White House.
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