GOP Convention
GOP Convention

The next major phase of the U.S. presidential election campaign is about to begin with the Republican and Democratic National conventions. Republicans will meet in Tampa, Florida, beginning Monday to formally nominate Mitt Romney.  Democrats gather in Charlotte, North Carolina the following week to nominate President Barack Obama for a second term. 

Location of RNC and DNC conventions
Location of RNC and DNC conventions

It has been decades since U.S. political conventions actually chose presidential candidates for the two main political parties. The candidates are now chosen through a process of state-by-state primary and caucus votes and the conventions are used to build party unity and showcase the party nominees for president.

Peter Brown with the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute said, “Well they are important because essentially they are a show. They are a way of presenting each party in its best light and it is a way of telling voters, this is who the party is, this is who the candidate is and this is what he stands for.”

This year’s Republican convention in Tampa will be especially important for the party’s nominee in waiting, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Public-opinion polls show a close race at the moment between Romney and Obama.

Romney is less well known than the president, and polls also show Obama is more likeable, so the convention will be a chance for the Republican candidate to highlight his policies and his personality.

Romney argues his previous experience as a businessman would give him an advantage in trying to turn around the U.S. economy.

“As opposed to having a president who thinks that government creates our economy and allows it to grow, I understand that it is free people and freedom that drive our economy,” Romney said.

Romney has excited conservative Republicans with his choice of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. Both Ryan and Romney will give speeches at the convention.

Political analyst Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said the Republican convention offers former governor Romney a chance to enhance his image with voters.

“Romney now has an opportunity to show that he is not the imperious, mean-spirited, out-of-touch rich guy but rather a warm family person who cares about others and also somebody who is competent enough to move forward,” said Ornstein.

Republicans could face some distractions in Tampa. A powerful storm threatens to disrupt the early stages of the convention. In addition, controversial comments about rape and abortion by Missouri Representative Todd Akin could distract Republicans from their planned focus on the economy and Mitt Romney.

Convention Charlotte
The skyline of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina on August 16, 2012. The city will host the Democratic National Convention on September 3, 2012.

The week following the Republican convention, Democrats will meet in Charlotte, North Carolina to nominate President Obama for a second four-year term.

Obama acknowledges that the economy is not as strong as he would like. But he said Romney and the Republicans would cut taxes for the wealthy and repeal his health-care reform law, which he said helps millions of average Americans.

“Their vision is wrong for moving America forward," the president said. "It is not a vision you have to accept and that is why November is important and that is why I am running for a second term as president!”

Analyst Norman Ornstein said the president will have a different challenge when he speaks at his convention in North Carolina.

“You want to show that you are the commander in chief," said Ornstein. "You want to reinforce the things that you have done, including killing Osama bin Laden, that show you as the tough, resolute decision-maker.”

Once the party conventions are over, the pace of the presidential campaign will intensify as the candidates target key states where the race is close.

The next major campaign test begins October 3 when the candidates take part in a series of nationally-televised debates. Three presidential debates will be held, as well as one vice presidential debate between Republican Paul Ryan and the current Vice President Joe Biden.