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Storm changes GOP’s plans

Republicans delay convention start as Isaac nears

TAMPA, Fla. – An approaching tropical storm, forecast to become a hurricane as it roars into the Gulf of Mexico today, has forced postponement of the first day of the Republican National Convention here, party officials announced Saturday evening.

The opening session Monday was to have featured Mitt Romney’s formal nomination by thousands of convention delegates as the party’s 2012 presidential standard bearer. A planned speech that evening by Romney’s wife, Ann, had previously been moved to Tuesday because the commercial broadcast TV networks are not carrying events from the first night.

Instead, the gathering will nominally open Monday and then immediately adjourn, officials said. The plan – at least for now – is to reconvene Tuesday. Party officials said they hoped to begin laying out a revised schedule today.

Tropical Storm Isaac pushed into Cuba on Saturday after sweeping across Haiti’s southern peninsula, where it brought flooding and at least three deaths.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Isaac is expected to remain over water off Florida’s west coast, eventually making landfall on the north Gulf Coast, somewhere between the western Florida panhandle and Louisiana.

The giant storm is forecast to pass close enough to the Tampa area to deliver a battering of rain and tropical-storm-force winds, starting as early as tonight and continuing through Monday. A gala welcome party for 20,000 convention participants, scheduled for this evening, was still on as of Saturday night.

Thousands of delegates and other convention participants are being housed in resort hotels along a coastal barrier island that is expected to bear the brunt of the storm in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. They will be advised as early as this morning if it will be necessary to evacuate to higher ground inland, officials said.

Cancellation of at least the first day of the convention is the latest setback for Romney, whose campaign has been dragged off-message and off-plan over the last week or more. The four-day production has long been conceived as one of the best opportunities between now and the election for Romney to better acquaint the nation’s voters with his record in government and private life, his position on the issues and personal character.

Last week, the campaign was sidetracked by a Missouri GOP Senate candidate’s incendiary remarks about rape and abortion. The controversy shed unwanted light on strict conservative stances that Romney espoused on social issues in the primaries that could complicate his efforts to woo independent suburban moderates, particularly single women, in November.

A recent concentration in the presidential campaign debate on Medicare, an issue that could prove damaging to Romney in senior-heavy Florida, a must-win state for Republicans, has also pulled Romney away from his earlier focus on high unemployment and a sluggish economic recovery, the issues widely regarded as the greatest threat to President Barack Obama’s re-election.

Russ Schriefer, a top Romney adviser and the producer of the convention, said in a conference call Saturday evening that the Republicans can squeeze into three days what they had planned to do in four.

“We will absolutely be able to get our message out,” Schriefer said.

Romney is currently scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech at the convention arena in Tampa on Thursday night. The tropical storm is forecast to be out of the Tampa area by Tuesday evening. That presumably would give organizers enough time to salvage at least the final two days of the gathering, unless there is widespread damage.

Associated Press contributed to this report.


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