World Bulletin / News Desk
Tropical Storm Isaac nudged the U.S. presidential election campaign off course, forcing Republicans to delay the start of Mitt Romney's national convention in Florida and Vice President Joe Biden to cancel a campaign trip to the state.
The prospect of howling winds and flooding around the convention site near Tampa Bay prompted organizers to cancel Monday's scheduled events and try to squeeze as many activities into three days as had been planned for four.
Facing a stormy forecast, Republicans this week are to formally nominate Romney and vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan as their candidates to face Democratic President Barack Obama and Biden in the Nov. 6 election.
The Republican convention, just like the Democrats' similar gathering in Charlotte early next month, is typically a celebratory event bringing together thousands of party activists from across the United States for a week of speeches, partying and strategizing.
But the Republicans now face the possibility of grappling with a potential natural disaster in a major battleground state that Romney needs to win in order to deny Obama a second term. This means any celebrations must be tempered with concern for those affected by Isaac.
The importance of the convention for Romney cannot be overstated. Running either even with Obama or slightly behind him, Romney needs a bounce in the polls from the convention. He needs to convince Americans that he is a viable alternative to the incumbent Democrat, and his big week, culminating with a speech on Thursday, needs as few distractions as possible.
Tropical Storm Isaac storm has pummeled Haiti, killing at least six people and has now moved on to Cuba.
Fueled by warm Gulf waters, Isaac is expected to strengthen into a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph (160 kph) winds and hit the U.S. Gulf coast somewhere between the Florida Panhandle and New Orleans around midweek.
Officials expect to have a better idea of how badly the storm will impact the Tampa area by Sunday.
"The Republican convention is going to take place. We know that we will officially nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan," said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. He said party officials were working with Florida state officials and emergency management to ensure the safety of everyone attending the convention.
Russ Schriefer, a representative from the Romney campaign, said they would adjust times and try to fit in as many speakers as possible in three days instead of the planned four-day event.
"I think the important thing is that, even as ... the days will be abbreviated ... we'll absolutely be able to get our message out," Schriefer said.
"We have the opportunity to tell the American people the story of the last four years, how President Obama's failed leadership has failed this country and how Mitt Romney ... can provide a better future for Americans."
The Republican convention will bring 50,000 visitors to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, home to well over 4 million people. Over the last few days, local authorities have said they could handle the crowds and the approaching storm.
Many attendees booked earlier flights to be in place before any bad weather. Hotels said they were ready to shift party schedules or move outdoor events indoors.
The last Republican convention, in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2008 was also delayed a day due to a storm. That year, Hurricane Gustav hit the Louisiana coast as the convention was set to nominate Senator John McCain as the Republican nominee.
The party, still reeling from criticism of Republican President George W. Bush's handling of devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005, rushed to delay the meeting out of respect for Gustav's victims.
Convention president Bill Harris said the party was ready operationally for events in Tampa to begin but they were acting out of an "abundance of caution" because of the uncertainty of the weather.
"I want to make sure everyone who attends the convention is safe and everyone who lives in Florida is not unnecessarily injured by any activities taking place when a storm threatens," Harris said.
Biden, who had planned to visit Florida during the convention but who had already canceled his Tampa event because of the storm, has decided to also cancel his other events in Orlando and St. Augustine.