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Politics

Convention is GOP's time to shine -- once the storm passes

| Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, 10:48 p.m.
Workers prepare the stage for the Republican National Convention inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, in Tampa, Fla.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Workers prepare the stage for the Republican National Convention inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

TAMPA — With Tropical Storm Isaac threatening the Gulf Coast, top Republicans and the Romney campaign announced Saturday that the GOP convention effectively will be suspended on Monday.

“Our chief priority is the safety of the residents of Florida, of those visiting the convention, and all those in Gulf Coast states who may be impacted by Tropical Storm Isaac,” Republican National Convention President and CEO Bill Harris said in a statement.

The roll call of states to nominate Romney had been planned for Monday. While the convention will officially convene that day, it quickly will be recessed until Tuesday, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus said.

The move will consolidate the planned four-day convention to three days, but even in the abbreviated format, “we will still be able to get our message out,” said Russ Schriefer, a strategist for GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

A new convention schedule will be released on Sunday, officials said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency. The Republican governor canceled his plans to attend the convention on Monday, including his speech that night.

“It's out of their hands,” said Mike Barley, executive director of the Pennsylvania Republican Party. “Certainly we want to heed the weather and make sure everyone is safe.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a staunch Democrat, had planned a warm welcome for GOP delegates that would transcend politics.

To Buckhorn, who spruced up this Gulf Coast city of 346,000, this is all about economic development and the estimated $175 million to $200 million that at least 50,000 visitors would generate for the convention at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

“This, for me, has never been partisan. This will be Tampa's coming-out for the world,” said Buckhorn, a Penn State University graduate who will leave for Charlotte, the following week to attend the Democratic National Convention as a delegate for President Obama.

Despite a potential for a potential hurricane to disrupt the celebration, about 500 Pennsylvanians are among those arriving. Delegates want this convention to showcase party unity and to define Romney as the candidate with fiscal credentials. They'll aim to contrast the future under him with one under Obama.

Outside issues distract

At the least, Tampa can expect political storms to make landfall.

Democrats seized upon two GOP snafus to detract from the pre-convention buzz: Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's refusal to quit his Senate race after he said that women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in cases of “legitimate rape,” and a report that freshmen lawmakers on a fact-finding mission to Israel last summer took a late-night dip in the Sea of Galilee, at least one of them in the nude.

“(Democrats) are trying to deflect everything away from the real issue of the campaign,” said Harrisburg GOP consultant Charlie Gerow, a delegate. “Every day of this campaign, Obama wants to avoid debate on the economy, unemployment and the deficit.”

Akin's blunder, he said, “is an issue in one state. It's one candidate, in one race.”

Yet both stories consumed valuable air time on TV networks, said Alison Dagnes, a political science professor at Shippensburg University, requiring the Romney campaign to work overtime “to get the stories back on their side.”

Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, stoked the debate in Pittsburgh last week when he told a reporter that he stands by his pro-life record in Congress. He defended a bill he and 226 other House members — including Akin and 11 Democrats — co-sponsored to ban federal funding for abortion except in cases of incest and “forcible” rape, language that was later changed to “rape victims.”

“The Romney-Ryan ticket, more and more, seems ready to lead women back into the 18th century,” said Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

“The fight for any general election is a fight for the middle, so Romney will have to move away from the ‘GOP war on women' narrative from Akin and the ‘boys gone wild' narrative from the Sea of Galilee and make himself and his party look appealing to more than the Republican base,” Dagnes said.

Last week, GOP officials reportedly struck a deal with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas to seat some of his delegates at the convention. Paul, who stopped actively campaigning in May, will speak on Sunday night at the University of South Florida.

Rolling out Ryan

Allegheny County Republican Chairman Jim Roddey said he doesn't expect any drama to erupt here.

“The convention is just a weeklong party” for delegates, he said.

It is also an opportunity to present Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, and emphasize a message that the nation's debt and the solvency of Medicare and Social Security are nearing crisis stage, Roddey said.

“Ryan has created a lot of enthusiasm,” said Rob Gleason, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

Romney's choice for vice president thrilled former congressman Bob Walker, a conservative delegate from Lancaster.

“It demonstrates Romney is really serious about dealing with economic reform,” Walker said.

The economy is Obama's albatross, said Bob Asher of Montgomery County, co-chairman of Romney's Pennsylvania Finance Committee.

Romney “just has to point out the record of failure under the current administration,” Asher said. Obama vowed things would improve “and now he's got to live with it.”

The Associated Press contributed. Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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