Worker Patrick Gayle of Kissimmee, Fla. wipes the mirror-sided camera stands on the floor of the Republican National Convention in the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Updated: August 27, 2012 10:02AM
TAMPA, Fla. — With Tropical Storm Isaac bearing down on the Gulf Coast, Republicans left open the possibility of bigger changes to Mitt Romney’s already-shortened convention, mindful of political awkwardness in celebrating while severe weather threatens New Orleans on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
“There’s a weather event. We all know there’s a weather event there,” Russ Schriefer, Romney’s chief planner, said Sunday when asked about a potential image problem. “We’re obviously monitoring what is going on with the weather. Our concern is with those people in the path of the storm.”
The decision about what to do next is fraught with political peril.
Romney is trying to balance celebrating his presidential nomination with being mindful of the ghost of Hurricane Katrina and the stain George W. Bush’s handling of it left on the GOP. The tropical storm, which seemed likely to be upgraded to a hurricane, could strike the Gulf Coast nearly to the day of the seventh anniversary of Katrina.
After scrapping the convention’s first day, planners late Sunday announced a three-day program and leaner agenda. But they wouldn’t speculate whether the storm would force a second postponement or any additional changes.
“We’re moving forward, but we are going to be nimble,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said.
The next few days will test Romney’s ability to both present himself to the American people as a plausible alternative to President Barack Obama and to lead a party still smarting from the image hit it took in the aftermath of the 2005 Gulf Coast devastation.
Since then, Republicans have been so sensitive to the political danger around hurricanes — and the appearance of partying at a time of trouble — that they delayed the start of their national convention by a day in 2008 when Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf, a full 1,200 miles away from where delegates were gathering in St. Paul, Minn.
Four years later, a storm again has delayed the start of the convention — and again is barreling toward New Orleans, the city that Katrina so badly damaged.
By Sunday afternoon, Tampa was cloud-covered and windy outside the hall where Romney is to accept the nomination Thursday night. Inside, tense Romney advisers huddled to figure out how to proceed.
“It’s a mess all around and it’s fraught with risk,” said Sally Bradshaw, a Florida Republican and longtime senior aide to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “It’s not good for anybody — particularly the people impacted by the storm.”
Beyond the safety and image concerns, Isaac presents another wrinkle for Romney: It allows Obama to show leadership and flex the levers of his administration to help people bracing for a storm.