Republicans cut first day of convention amid storm watch
TAMPA, Fla. — With Tropical Storm Isaac churning toward Florida, the Republican National Convention canceled its Monday program and is aiming to start its major business Tuesday.
Officials announced the change Saturday evening, after a tropical storm watch was posted for the Tampa Bay area.
The watch means winds of up to 73 miles an hour can be expected within 48 hours. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Saturday throughout Florida, as 50,000 delegates, media and others began pouring into the region.
The convention was supposed to open at 2 p.m. Monday, about the time the storm’s fury is expected to be near its peak. Instead, the convention will quickly convene and then recess Monday, and try to come back Tuesday, though Isaac’s rain and winds could still pose problems.
A new schedule is likely to be announced Sunday, and the roll call of the states to nominate Mitt Romney for president and Paul Ryan for vice president is expected to occur Tuesday afternoon instead of Monday.
“We’re hoping we’ll be able to get as many of the speakers we’ve been announcing over the last several days packed into three days instead of four,” said Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus in a conference call with reporters late Saturday.
The main Monday attraction, a speech by Mitt Romney’s wife Ann, had already been moved to Tuesday night so that broadcast networks would televise it. Those networks had scheduled no coverage Monday. Other Monday speakers were to include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
Convention officials said Saturday that alternative housing for delegates was being considered, as well as different transportation arrangements. Many delegates are staying near beaches, and many have to cross low-lying bridges to reach the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the convention site in downtown Tampa.
Officials were confident the convention would proceed later in the week. “We are operationally ready to run this convention in every respect,” said William Harris, convention president and chief executive officer.
The change represents the second consecutive time Republicans have had to juggle the schedule because of weather.
In 2008, Republicans dramatically altered their Monday program, which was to feature speeches by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the governors of Louisiana and Florida. But two hurricanes were heading for their states, the governors headed home, the convention attended to routine business, and corporate sponsors were urged to tone down their events and help raise money for possible hurricane victims.
As the weather threatened havoc, Romney and President Barack Obama continued to spar Saturday in the hours leading up to the convention.
Romney was in Columbus, Ohio, where he and running mate Paul Ryan tried to paint themselves as champions of women. “Women need our help,” Romney said as he discussed women entrepreneurs.
Obama chided Romney for extreme views.
“I can’t speak to Governor Romney’s motivations,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press, reported Saturday. “What I can say is that he has signed up for positions, extreme positions, that are very consistent with positions that a number of House Republicans have taken. And whether he actually believes in those or not, I have no doubt that he would carry forward some of the things that he’s talked about.”
Democrats have been blasting Republicans for their plan to dramatically change Medicare, the health care program for seniors and some disabled people, and adopt policies making it much more difficult for women to obtain abortions.
The Romney campaign fired back by citing another part of the interview, in which Obama conceded, “We aren’t where we need to be. Everybody agrees with that.”
“President Obama concedes that ‘we aren’t where we need to be.’ Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan agree,” said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. “The American people know they aren’t better off than they were four years ago.”