TAMPA, Florida (CNN) — Mitt and Ann Romney went to church Sunday, perhaps to pray that a likely hurricane threatening Florida’s west coast won’t derail the certain Republican presidential nominee’s best chance to define himself to the American public.
GOP officials already canceled Monday’s planned first day of the Republican National Convention due to Tropical Storm Isaac, forcing them to condense a program intended to present Romney as the right leader for the challenges facing the country in the aftermath of what they call the failed Obama presidency.
The now three-day convention starting Tuesday will still feature all or most of the major scheduled speeches, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told CNN Sunday.
“We’re going to tell the Mitt Romney story,” he said. “We’re still going to prosecute the president on what he promised and what he delivered and why we think we need to save this country and … put Mitt Romney in the White House.”
A new national survey illustrates the challenge Romney faces.
While the CNN/ORC International poll indicates a dead heat between Romney and President Barack Obama, new numbers released Sunday show that likely voters believe Obama is more in touch with their needs.
“The public gives Obama a big advantage over Romney on questions on caring about people and understanding their concerns,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland, adding that Romney’s strong points — in the minds of poll respondents — were his managerial skills and having a clear plan to solve the country’s problems.
According to the poll, 53% of likely voters say Obama cares about the needs of people, with 39% feeling the same way about the former Massachusetts governor. Obama leads by an equal margin when it comes to being in touch with the middle class, and six in 10 say Obama is in touch with the problems facing women today, with just over three in 10 feeling the same way about Romney.
Romney has 48%-44% margin over Obama on managing the government effectively and a six-point advantage on having a clear plan for fixing the nation’s problems.
“The challenge facing Romney at the GOP convention is to build on those managerial strengths while at the same trying to convince average Americans that he is in touch with their problems. Obama’s personal characteristics, for the moment, outshine Romney’s,” Holland said.
Priebus said Sunday that delaying the start of the convention was “the right thing to do” and that the main structure of the convention would remain intact.
“Everything is going to be back to normal on Tuesday,” Priebus said, adding that some speeches may be shorter than originally planned.
The goal is to fully introduce Romney to the American public, he said.
“People are just getting to know Mitt Romney. Obama has been president for four years,” Priebus said. In particular, organizers want the convention to question whether Obama has delivered on what he promised in 2008, and to tell the story of Romney.
Priebus provided a preview, calling Romney “a man that is decent, honorable and gave away his father’s inheritance, started something from nothing and created a great business.”
When it’s over after Romney’s acceptance speech on Thursday night, Priebus said, Americans are going to know “who he is as a person, who he is as a father and husband, who he is and why he believes that the American dream is alive and well.”
“I think that this sort of miserable ‘glass half full’ America that Barack Obama is selling out there is not the America that parents want for their kids,” he added. “And I think we can take that message of the American dream and embracing success, and we can win on that message.”
While the the convention will convene Monday, it will then immediately recess until the following afternoon because of the storm that is expected to reach hurricane strength sometime Sunday as it heads into the Gulf of Mexico.
GOP officials expect 50,000 people to attend the convention where Romney will officially accept his party’s presidential nomination.
The Romney campaign got waylaid last week when incendiary comments by conservative Republican Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri ignited a political firestorm about rape and abortion.
Akin, who won Missouri’s Republican Senate primary to challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in November, told an interviewer that women have an undefined biological response to what the called “legitimate rape” that oftentimes prevented pregnancy.
Romney and the full spectrum of GOP politicians from the Republican National Committee to tea party groups condemned Akin’s comments and called for him to drop out of the race, which is considered crucial to Republican hopes of winning a Senate majority.
Akin apologized and called his remarks incorrect, but he has refused to end his Senate bid. The imbroglio has given new life to McCaskill, considered the most vulnerable Democratic senator running, and caused chagrin within the Republican establishment.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told CNN Sunday that Akin’s continued candidacy could undermine GOP chances of winning back a Senate majority.
“I think that he should get out of the race,” Priebus said. “He has time to get out of the race and he ought to put the mission of liberty and freedom ahead of himself.”
Asked if Akin could cost Republicans control of the Senate, Priebus said: “Sure, absolutely.”
A further concern is that Akin’s comments focused attention on the volatile abortion issue in the run-up to the convention, when the Romney campaign wanted to talk the candidate’s prescriptions for high unemployment and slow economic growth under Obama.
Instead, Romney and running mate Paul Ryan, the conservative House Budget Committee chairman from Wisconsin, have been asked repeatedly about differences between their personal views on whether abortion should be banned in all cases or permitted only for pregnancies from rape, incest or that threaten the life of the mother.
Romney’s Mormon faith supports the narrow exceptions, while Ryan — a devout Catholic — supports a blanket ban. The campaign has made clear the ticket supports Romney’s stance, which also contrasts with the party platform that convention delegates are scheduled to vote on this week.