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TAMPA — The show must go on — and so it will, albeit a day late, as organizers of the Republican National Convention scrambled on Sunday to shoehorn four days of speeches, videos, votes, and one big balloon drop into three.
Russ Schriefer, Mitt Romney's chief convention strategist, told reporters late Sunday that the local threat of Tropical Storm Isaac had eased sufficiently. He said he was confident of the revised plan to convene on Tuesday, formally nominate the former Massachusetts governor for president, and move to the business of trying to define Mr. Romney and the stakes in the election before the largest unfiltered audience the new ticket has had in its effort to oust President Obama.
As Isaac tracked to the west over the Gulf of Mexico rather than hugging the Florida coast as feared, the Tampa Bay region appeared to have been largely spared. But the storm, on its current path, had the potential to inflict serious damage to the state's panhandle as well as Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, where the governors, joining Florida, had declared states of emergency. In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal said he is likely to skip the convention because of the storm, which is projected to hit his state on Wednesday.
Unless its path were to shift again, Isaac's greatest threat to the convention wasn't the physical damage it might inflict on Tampa, but the competition for public and media attention at a time when Mr. Romney and his soon-to-be official running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, hope to burnish anew their public images.
As the storm crossed the Florida Keys, winds rose in the Tampa Bay area on Sunday and hotels, businesses, and homeowners secured outdoor furniture and potted plants against rising winds under fast-moving slate clouds. But while almost all of today's official events were canceled, along with a smattering of incoming flights, any number of convention-related events went on across the bay area. In downtown Tampa, blocks from the security perimeter, demonstrators denounced the GOP platform and candidates as a threat to "the 99 percent."
Thousands of social conservatives gathered for a Faith and Freedom Coalition rally that included appearances by Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and presidential candidate, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. And at the University of South Florida, Texas Rep. Ron Paul greeted thousands of the loyal supporters who kept him in the nomination fight until the end and allowed him to gain control of three state delegations, a breakthrough for his crusade of libertarianism at home and anti-intervention abroad.
Under the new convention schedule, Mr. Paul will be the subject of a tribute video on Wednesday, the same day his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, delivers a speech to the delegates. Still the Paul adherents bristled at convention rule changes that will make it tougher for insurgent candidates to have their names placed in nomination at future conventions, as well as a credentials decision that deprived the Texas congressman's campaign of control of the Maine delegation.
And after a day of strong but not damaging winds, thousands of delegates headed from both sides of the bay to St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field, the baseball home of the Tampa Bay Rays, for an opening party.
Mr. Schriefer, the Romney organizer, said that with some juggling and the shortening of some speeches, the convention staff was confident it would be able to fit all of the "headline speakers" into the new abbreviated schedule. After a brief pro forma session that he said would last only about five minutes today, the delegates will convene on Tuesday for approval of the party platform and for the roll call that will officially award Mr. Romney the prize he and his supporters have devoted years of work and millions of dollars toward.
On Tuesday evening, Ann Romney will address the delegates along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the convention's keynote speaker.
Mr. Ryan will seize the spotlight Wednesday night as he accepts his vice presidential nomination. Barring another turn in the weather, the event will culminate on Thursday as Mr. Romney makes his case for becoming the nation's 45th president.
In addition to the formal opening, the few pieces of business Monday will include the unveiling of a debt clock that will tick on through Thursday, reminding delegates and television viewers of the mounting total of the national debt through the week.
Mr. Schriefer declined to speculate on whether the uncertain weather might force more schedule changes on the quadrennial event, including a possible extension into Friday.
"We're planing on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday," he said.
Mr. Romney spent Sunday in New Hampshire where he has a summer home. Aides said he spent part of his afternoon practicing his speech with the use of a teleprompter.
In an interview on Fox, Mr. Romney conceded on Sunday that fresh controversy over rape and abortion rights is harming his party and he accused Democrats of trying to exploit it for political gain.
"It really is sad, isn't it, with all the issues that America faces, for the Obama campaign to continue to stoop to such a low level," said Mr. Romney, struggling to sharpen the presidential election focus instead on a weak economy and 8.3 percent national unemployment.
The rape-abortion reference was to a comment more than a week ago by Rep. Todd Akin, the party's candidate for a Senate seat in Missouri. In an interview, Mr. Akin said a woman's body has a way of preventing pregnancy in the case of a "legitimate rape." The claim is unsupported by medical evidence, and the congressman quickly apologized.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O'Toole is politics editor at the Post-Gazette.
Contact James O'Toole at: email@example.com, or 412-263-1562.