Republicans Delay Convention Start as Storm Nears Tampa

The opening day of the Republican National Convention has been postponed because Tropical Storm Isaac is bearing down on the site in Tampa, Florida, cutting into the amount of free television coverage that would benefit presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.

The decision was taken to ensure “the safety of our delegates and guests, members of the media attending the RNC convention and citizens of the Tampa Bay area,” Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, told reporters on a conference call last night. “Officials have predicted participants may encounter severe transportation difficulties due to sustained wind and rain.”

The convention will formally convene on Aug. 27 as scheduled and then immediately recess until Aug. 28. The postponement came as Romney was turning his focus to the convention, including the writing of his formal acceptance speech for Aug. 30.

Romney, campaigning yesterday in Ohio, urged voters to ignore all the “marvelous things” President Barack Obama will say in his convention speech, when Democrats gather the week after the Republicans in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I can almost read his speech now. It will be filled with promises and tell people how wonderful things are,” Romney told about 5,000 voters at an outdoor rally in Powell. “It is not his words that people have to listen to it is his actions and his record.”

Alternative Housing

In Florida, convention officials are looking into alternative housing for delegates, if needed, Priebus said. About 50,000 visitors will be in the Tampa area because of the convention, including delegates, members of the media and protesters.

The decision to cancel was unanimous among members of the Republican National Committee and Romney’s presidential campaign, Priebus said. A revised convention program will be issued as early as today.

Priebus said among the greatest concerns about trying to start as scheduled was the fact that many of the delegates must cross causeway bridges in the area to get to Tampa’s downtown convention site.

“We’re not going to put delegates on a bunch of buses over the bridges between Clearwater and St. Pete when we can’t predict how severe the wind is going to be and what the damage could possibly be,” he said.

Compressed Schedule

Russ Schriefer, a senior Romney strategist, told reporters on the conference call that some of the remaining convention days may start earlier than previously scheduled, given the compressed schedule.

“We will absolutely be able to get our message out,” he said. “We think that we can absolutely do it in three days.”

As of late yesterday, the storm was moving along the coast of northeastern Cuba and was forecast to strengthen into a hurricane and make landfall in the Florida Keys today, according to the National Hurricane Center. Forecasts show Isaac entering the Gulf of Mexico, sending rain and storm surges along Florida’s west coast, including Tampa Bay, and moving past the convention area by Aug. 28.

“We look forward to a great start on Tuesday and can think of no operational reason why that won’t happen,” Bill Harris, president and chief executive officer of the convention, told reporters on the call.

Appealing to Women

During his last scheduled campaign appearance before the Republican gathering in Tampa, Romney returned to the economic pitch that has been the central message of his candidacy.

In an effort to shore up support among female voters, he made a direct appeal to women business owners.

“If we become president and vice president we want to speak to you,” he said. “Women in this country are more likely to start businesses then men. Women need our help.”

He also gave the audience a peek into his convention preparations, telling voters that he spent time on a recent evening studying the president’s 2008 address at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“I happened to pull out his speech last night -- I’m not kidding,” he said. “It’s really a brilliant speech.”

Romney said he would be finishing his convention address at his lakeside home in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

Florida Governor Rick Scott canceled his convention-related activities, including his speech to delegates on Aug. 27. Scott said he spoke to Romney yesterday about the storm’s possible impact on Florida.

Biden Cancels

Vice President Joe Biden, who planned to campaign in the Tampa area during the rivals’ convention, canceled earlier because of the storm.

Obama is spending the weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. He will spend next week countering Romney’s message, scheduling campaign appearances in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia for Aug. 28-29.

In an Aug. 23 Associated Press interview published yesterday, Obama said Romney has taken “extreme positions” and failed to offer concrete proposals that would help the middle class. Obama particularly criticized Romney’s policy positions on income tax rate cuts, abortion and the elimination of a tax break for wind energy.

If he wins a second term, Obama told the AP he would be “prepared to make a whole range of compromises” with Republicans in Congress, including some that would cause criticism from Democrats. “But we’re going to need compromise on your side as well. And the days of viewing compromise as a dirty word need to be over because the American people are tired of it.”

To contact the reporters on this story: John McCormick in Tampa, Florida, at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net; Lisa Lerer in Wolfboro, New Hampshire, at llerer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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