Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's vice-presidential running-mate, will embark on the biggest challenge of his political career on Wednesday night, trying to sell his boss to the Republican convention and to millions more watching at home.
Ryan, one of the great hopes of the Republican party, will deliver a primetime keynote speech designed to both bolster Romney and land punches on Barack Obama.
He will focus on drawing sharp distinctions with Obama on economic policy, according to excerpts released in advance of the speech.
Contrasting his joint Romney-Ryan economic plan to cut taxes and spending with what he described as the failure of Barack Obama's economic policies, he will say: "We have a plan for a stronger middle class, with the goal of generating 12 million new jobs over the next four years."
Ryan will not make the mistake of the keynote speaker on Tuesday night, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who failed in his task of building up Romney. Christie was 17 minutes into his speech before mentioning Romney's name.
"Our nominee is sure ready," he will say of Romney. "His whole life has prepared him for this moment – to meet serious challenges in a serious way, without excuses and idle words. After four years of getting the run-around, America needs a turnaround, and the man for the job is governor Mitt Romney."
The Wisconsin congressman will also attack Obama's healthcare reforms, which have received little mention from the convention platform so far this week.
"Obamacare comes to more than two thousand pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees, and fines that have no place in a free country," he will say. "The president has declared that the debate over government-controlled health care is over. That will come as news to the millions of Americans who will elect Mitt Romney so we can repeal Obamacare."
Much of the rest of Ryan's speech consists of warm but largely empty rhetoric. He will say the final months of the campaign for the White House would present a clear choice between the Romney-Ryan spending cuts plan and what he portrays as Obama's failed stimulus package.
Delegates were looking to Ryan replicate the excitement created by the 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin – while avoiding the later pitfalls of her disastrous media appearances.
Ryan, in the speech, will focus on presenting himself, as he has done throughout his political career, as a small-town, ordinary Joe, turning again, as he has in the past, to folksy language. "My Dad used to say to me: 'Son. You have a choice: You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution'," Ryan said.
He will be followed on Thursday night by Romney, who faces the most important speech of his political career when he addresses the convention. It is one of the last major opportunities for Romney, speaking to an estimated 50,000 in the hall and potentially more than 30 million at home, to break free from Obama after months in which the two have been tied in the polls.
In the speech, Ryan criticises Obama's healthcare reforms, an economic plan to create 12 million new jobs over the next four years.
The Obama campaign launched a pre-emptive strike before Ryan's convention speech, releasing a new video using black-and-white footage to highlight their contention that he is a throwback to a bygone era.
The Obama campaign said: "Paul Ryan has made it clear that he'll take the nation back to a very different era – including the same failed policies that crashed our economy in the first place."
In the video, mocked up to look like newsreel from the 1940s and 1950s, the Obama campaign accuses him of supporting a budget that will hurt the working class, end the Medicare health scheme, and cut programmes for students. It also accuses him of being anti-women and anti-abortion.
A Ryan spokesman, Brendan Buck, responding to claims in the video that Ryan would be disastrous for the working-class, accused Obama of "tired and misleading attacks in an attempt to divert attention away from his failed record".
Romney, after arriving in Tampa on Tuesday, earlier than planned, flew on Wednesday to Indiana to address army veterans before returning to Florida. He said that he would rather address the veterans than polish his speech. His main thrust was to denounce planned cuts by Obama in the military budget.
"We are now just months away from an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would weaken the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats," Romney said. In spite of Republican efforts, the prospect of defence cuts has failed to take off as an election issue, in the main because the top concern of voters is unemployment.
Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state in the Bush administration, was the warm-up for Ryan. In a CBS interview on Wednesday, Rice said that Romney – unlike Obama – would lead from the front in world affairs, although Romney has had little to say about foreign policy so far.
While Rice insisted she was not advocating intervention in Syria, she said: "When the United States's voice is muted, the world is a more dangerous place … just look at the situation in Syria, for instance. We have a circumstance in which [Syrian president Bashar] Assad is butchering his people, the Iranians are helping him to do so, the United States seems to be mired in the security council, the Russians and the Chinese say, 'No, no, no,' and we don't seem to have an answer."
Rice was adamant she would not take a role in a Romney cabinet, saying she intended to remain in the academic world.
One of the biggest obstacles to Romney winning the presidency, in spite of widespread and deep dissatisfaction with Obama's handling of the economy, is the alienation of Latinos through his anti-immigration rhetoric. The Democrats enjoy a two-to-one advantage over the Republicans among Latinos, one of the fastest-growing groups.
The former Republican governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, George's brother, and who is married to a Latino, expressed his frustration with his own party at a Hispanic outreach meeting in Tampa on Tuesday. He predicted the party will not close the gap with Latino voters until they "stop acting stupid".
The Republican national committee also risked alienating floating voters by publishing as part of the convention its official programme a platform document setting out various policy goals such as a ban on all abortions, a ban on gay marriage, turning Medicare into a voucher scheme and introducing more tax cuts.
Romney is not bound by the platform programme. His campaign, while saying it supports the Medicare reform and more tax cuts, favours exemptions from the abortion ban in cases of rape, incest and where there is risk to women's health.
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