Mitt Romney shares spotlight with Tropical Storm Isaac.
TAMPA, FLA. - The prospect of a major storm blowing through the Gulf of Mexico toward New Orleans upset the tight choreography of the Republican convention on Sunday, straining the party's highly scripted plans for showcasing Mitt Romney and raising the possibility that news media attention could shift elsewhere.
With Tropical Storm Isaac now forecast to roar northwest past Tampa on Monday and Tuesday, officials scrambled to reconfigure what had been a four-night schedule into three and to make contingency plans for further changes.
But even if the storm largely bypasses this region, it holds the risk of creating an uncomfortable split-screen image, especially if it continues barreling toward New Orleans.
Republicans were wary of the optics of television coverage split between the revelry and partisanship surrounding Romney's nomination and the threat of the storm making landfall in Louisiana or Mississippi seven years to the week after Hurricane Katrina left an American city in ruins.
At the very least, Romney's image-makers were coming to terms with sharing the news spotlight with the storm just as they were hoping their gathering would give their candidate the exposure he needs to surge ahead of President Obama.
Instead of focusing on the convention and on Republicans descending on the swing state of Florida, local news outlets were giving constant and increasingly urgent updates on the storm's path. Network correspondents here were girding to be reassigned from convention coverage to hurricane coverage, heavy rain gear and all.
En route from his vacation home in Wolfeboro, N.H., on Sunday for a speech rehearsal, Romney stayed optimistic, telling reporters who asked him if he was concerned, "It'll be a great convention." But, he said: "I hope everybody's fine there. I'm concerned about the people that are going to be affected by it."
Fearing high winds and pelting rains, Republicans had already canceled most of Monday's formal events and they could not rule out a delay on Tuesday. Still, a sense of celebratory relief reigned at the welcoming table at Tampa International Airport as convention-goers got the news that the worst of the storm would largely bypass Tampa.
Tunes and forecasts
A steel-drummer played sunny melodies as a greeter, Debbie Marvin, happily shared images of the storm's track on her iPad with streams of arriving delegates. Marvin said that Floridians knew when a real hit was coming and that she never thought it was this time. "They should ask the locals about the weather," she said.
That was before it became clear that the storm was threatening to hit near New Orleans as a Category 2 hurricane packing winds of 100 miles per hour, and before some residents of Plaquemines Parish, which includes portions of New Orleans, were ordered to evacuate Monday.
It is the second consecutive time the Republicans' convention was disrupted by August storms. Faced with a similar prospect of a Gulf Coast hurricane four years ago during his convention in St. Paul, Sen. John McCain canceled the first night of ceremonies.
"Images of revelry by Republicans at a time of suffering by other Americans -- no party wants those optics," said Steve Schmidt, who helped lead McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "You have terrible awareness of all that stuff."
The suffering from Hurricane Katrina was still fresh then, with the storm representing to Democrats a failure of compassion and competence by the Bush administration.
But Tropical Storm Isaac threatens to fit just as neatly into that kind of narrative, with Obama seeking to paint Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan as opposed to a government that takes care of its most vulnerable and intent on cutting just the sort of federal services that can be critical in emergencies.
Obama offers help
On Sunday afternoon, the White House sent out a statement detailing Obama's call to Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott. "The president also told the governor to let him know if there are any unmet needs or additional resources the administration could provide, including in support of efforts to ensure the safety of those visiting the state for the Republican National Convention," it read.
Scott canceled his plans through Tuesday so he could focus solely on storm-related matters.
Convention officials said the decision to cancel Monday's program came when forecasters predicted that wind speeds would force planners to dismantle the many tents covering their security screening stations.
Party officials said that they were proceeding as if there would be no further delay or postponements and that they were busy revising plans to accommodate all the events.
Should the hurricane continue to pick up steam toward the coast, one official said on the condition of anonymity, another delay or a suspension would be likely because Romney's strategists would not be "politically tone deaf to people negatively impacted by a hurricane."