With Tropical Storm Isaac bearing down on Florida, the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee scrapped at least the first day of his national convention, mindful of the good politics of putting safety before, well, politics.
Top Romney aides and Republican National Committee officials scrambled late Saturday behind closed doors to shrink a four-day schedule of events into three for a convention that had been set to open with a sweeping indictment of President Barack Obama‘s economic stewardship. They said they hoped to begin laying out a revised schedule on Sunday, and it wasn’t immediately clear what parts of the agenda would stay and what parts would go.
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Nor was it clear whether there would be more delays. Romney’s team was preparing for more schedule changes in case Isaac makes landfall elsewhere in Florida, requiring assistance from the brigades of police, national guard and emergency workers assigned to the convention.
Weather-related woes were always a risk when Republicans chose to hold their convention in Florida during hurricane season, a decision made well before Romney locked up the nomination.
With forecasters predicting heavy rains and powerful wind, Romney’s team huddled to weigh the pros and cons of cutting the convention short as well as worst-case scenarios. Romney ended up betting that losing a day of his party was less costly than going forward with his four-day plans and angering residents of a state he needs to win.
“The safety of those in Isaac’s path is of the utmost importance,” campaign said in a tweet.
In truth, Romney had little choice but to truncate his convention.
Insisting on a four-day affair could have put delegates’ safety at risk, while tying up law enforcement and emergency officials who otherwise would be dispatched to deal with storm fallout. That would have left a black mark on the convention, with potentially lasting political consequences in a critical battleground state. Polls show Romney narrowly trailing Obama in this state, worth a giant cache of 29 Electoral College votes in a race to amass 270 needed for victory.
It didn’t appear that the postponement would cost Romney much in political terms, since the television networks had already announced they would not be carrying any of Monday’s events live. Because of that, Romney’s team already had moved Ann Romney’s convention speech – essentially her debut on the national stage – to Tuesday to ensure TV viewers would see it.
At most, Romney was losing a night of speeches planned to castigate Obama on his handling of the economy.
“Even though the days will be abbreviated, I absolutely believe we’ll be able to get our message out,” senior Romney adviser Russ Schriefer, in charge of the convention’s planning, said.
This wasn’t the first time a GOP convention ran into hurricane-related trouble.
Four years ago, would-be GOP nominee John McCain postponed the start of the convention in St. Paul, Minn., when a Hurricane Gustav threatened Louisiana – 1,200 miles away.
The sensitivities among politicians to impending natural disasters come in the wake of 2005’s devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the criticism Republican President George W. Bush faced for his handling of the chaos.
Mindful of the danger of appearing to put politics before safety, Vice President Joe Biden, the Obama campaign’s surrogate-in-chief, canceled a campaign swing through Florida on Monday and Tuesday.
And Obama was keeping tabs on the developments from afar, and dispatching the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist.
The president had no immediate plans to visit. But he might – as most presidents do – if the damage is severe. And if he does, Romney would have to weigh whether to proceed with his convention or scrap more parts of it – and cede the limelight to the man who holds the office he wants.
In Tampa, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the decision to start the GOP convention Tuesday was unanimous, although Romney aides said there was some vocal dissent.