TAMPA, Fla. - The Romney campaign has seized on Ronald Reagan's 1980 playbook, hoping to copy the Gipper's transformation during his GOP convention and subsequent debate with Jimmy Carter from a mocked B-tier Hollywood actor to a respected and winning presidential alternative.

Several Republicans including Romney's son Tagg said that Mitt Romney's path to the White House is a carbon copy of Reagan's, who was ridiculed by Carter and his team as they tried to divert attention to their hapless management of the economy.

Former Republican Party boss Haley Barbour said Carter accused Reagan of being a warmonger and loony conservative but when voters saw him perform well at the 1980 convention and debate, they thought, "Reagan doesn't look like a nut to me. He seems like a pretty nice guy."

That's the goal of Team Romney here--use family to show his softer side, highlight his charity and spell out in detail his plans for the presidency. "We don't have to hit it out of the park," said son Tagg Romney. Instead, he said, his father simply needs to show that he's not the ogre the Obama team is making him out to be.

Barbour suggested that Romney is on the verge of a big break out, based on polling numbers. He noted that when Romney became the presumptive nominee, the first Gallup Poll had him up by 2 percent. When Reagan became the presumptive nominee, he added, Gallup had him 14 points behind Carter and nine points behind at the beginning of the GOP convention.

Romney, however, is dead even with Obama.

But Democrats don't buy it and think Romney is moving too late to remake his image. Bill Burton, co-founder of the Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, told Secrets, "Romney missed a critical opportunity to tell the American people his story this spring and summer. As a result of only attacking President Obama and not introducing himself, voters see Romney as the kind of guy who got rich by rigging the system and profiting from the losses experienced by hard-working middle class families."

And, he added, a softer performance in Tampa might not work. "He can fix that some during the convention but there has been a hardening of Romney's perceived indifference to the middle class that will be difficult to wash away," said Burton.