Note to future convention planners: avoid hurricane season in Florida, no matter how important the state is to your electoral success.
As a tropical storm barrelled toward Tampa, Republican officials said they would scrap the opening day of their quadrennial national convention scheduled for Monday, citing safety concerns.
Tropical Storm Isaac, which forecasters are predicting will strengthen into a hurricane, is set to bring heavy rain and wind to the area around the city on Monday.
The storm is an unexpected guest at an event expected to draw 50,000 visitors, including official delegates, elected politicians, industry leaders, media, lobbyists, strategists, and protesters.
Organizers were scrambling Sunday to rearrange the convention schedule, looking for ways to cram what was originally four days worth of speeches and procedural moves into just three.
The event has been minutely calibrated to re-introduce both Mitt Romney and the Republican Party as the force that can lead Americans into a better future – away from what they call the ineffective policies of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Although the convention’s timing will be abbreviated, “We’ll absolutely be able to get our message out,” said Russ Schriefer, a representative from the Romney campaign, according to Reuters. “We’ll have the opportunity to tell the American people the story of the last four years, how President Obama’s failed leadership has failed this country.”
At the convention, delegates plan to formally nominate Mr. Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, as the party’s candidates for president and vice-president. For most of this week, the Romney campaign will have full access to the national spotlight, an opportunity it is determined to seize.
The campaign is also eager to avoid any missteps, especially in Florida. The largest swing state up for grabs in November, Florida is critical to Mr. Romney’s chances of winning the White House. Republican officials co-ordinated with Florida authorities to postpone the start of the convention, saying concerns for the safety of attendees trumped all else.
The event is a signature piece of American political theatre, complete with stirring rhetoric, cheering delegates, jeering protesters, and plenty of balloons. The convention will be briefly called into session on Monday, then immediately adjourn until Tuesday. It will culminate in a prime-time speech on Thursday evening by Mr. Romney.
Convention organizers are keen to project the image of a united party, joined together in enthusiastic support of Mr. Romney’s candidacy. But as with any large family gathering, there are tensions beneath the surface.
Some well-known Republican figures who did not receive speaking slots at the convention are holding their own events in Tampa on Sunday. Ron Paul, a Congressman from Texas who leads the party’s libertarian wing, is holding a rally honouring his impending retirement at a local arena. Ten thousand supporters are expected to attend.
Michele Bachmann, the firebrand Congresswoman from Minnesota who mounted a bid for the nomination, is scheduled to speak at a Tampa church on Sunday evening along with Herman Cain, a former restaurant executive and fellow contender for the nomination.
Another person the party is trying to ignore was in Tampa earlier this week meeting with conservative leaders and donors: Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin. His remark that a woman cannot get pregnant from “legitimate rape” cast national attention on the party’s stance on abortion at a time when it wants to focus on the economy and deficit.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan joined a chorus of other Republicans in denouncing Mr. Akin’s statement and urging him to abandon his campaign. But there is rancour behind the scenes. Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, who is scheduled to speak at the convention, criticized what he called an “unprecedented” attempt “to humiliate and devastate a fellow Republican,” CNN reported.
Mr. Huckabee’s remarks came in a conference call with Baptist pastors and Christian radio hosts on Friday, CNN said, where he also likened senior party officials to “union goons” who “kneecap” their enemies.
Despite the delayed start to the official proceedings, the unofficial business of the convention – schmoozing, networking, and partying – is well underway. On Sunday evening, the city’s baseball stadium, Tropicana Field, will host a massive welcome celebration for an estimated 20,000 people. The weather forecast indicates that the area can “safely host an event of this magnitude” at that time, organizers said in an e-mail.
The postponement marks the second time in a row that severe weather has disrupted the Republican National Convention. In 2008, when John McCain was the party’s nominee, the convention was held in Minnesota, far from hurricane territory. But just as the event was set to begin, Hurricane Gustav hit the Louisiana coast.
The party delayed the event by a day to ward off any criticism that it was insensitive to Gustav’s impact. Almost exactly three years earlier, Hurricane Katrina had devastated Louisiana, a calamity which became a political disaster for Republican President George W. Bush.