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Tropical Storm Isaac clouds picture for Republicans

Updated: September 29, 2012 6:19AM



TAMPA — Republicans gaveled their convention to order Monday for a session lasting only minutes as Tropical Storm Isaac spun a path toward New Orleans, presenting Mitt Romney’s team with the challenge of selling his candidacy while the Gulf Coast faces another potential disaster.

Even as convention planners anxiously monitored Isaac’s track, they promised to press ahead with plans to deliver a carefully choreographed message that President Barack Obama has been a failure and Romney is the best hope to lift America from its economic doldrums.

But reality trumped political theater Monday as storm coverage upstaged the convention on cable news channels as an intensifying Isaac appeared destined to make landfall as a hurricane in or near New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Katrina’s fatal impact.

While rehearsing for his own convention speech and a possible cameo Tuesday night when wife Ann is a keynote speaker, Romney showed empathy toward those in New Orleans bracing for the oncoming storm and hoping newly strengthened levees survive their first major post-Katrina test.

“Our thoughts are with the people that are in the storm’s path and hope that they’re spared any major destruction,” Romney told reporters outside a high school auditorium in New Hampshire.

But he ruled out cancelling additional days of the already storm-shortened convention that was cut from four days to three when organizers feared a direct hit on Tampa.

“We’ve got a great convention ahead,” he said.

Besides wife Ann Romney, Tuesday night’s other big hitter is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who once was on Romney’s vice presidential short list.

“We are going to continue on as far as getting our message out. We are going to be able to get it out very clearly that President Obama has failed,” said Russ Schriefer, a senior Romney strategist and producer for the convention.

While no one is predicting Isaac will be another Katrina, its emergence stands as an unfortunate reminder of how the Katrina disaster stands as one of the major failures of former President George W. Bush’s administration.

“I mean you’re always concerned. … That is going to be our first priority,” Schriefer said when asked how worried Romney’s team is about Isaac’s unpredictable and potential impact on their candidate’s image.

Meanwhile, Obama’s administration worked on disaster preparations on two tracks, with the president receiving briefings from FEMA about the storm and signing a disaster declaration for Louisiana ahead of what may be a direct hit by Isaac.

With all of the behind-the-scenes anxiety over Isaac, one of the most prominent members of Illinois’ convention delegation offered a novel way to portray the storm as a positive for Republicans — at least to those in the drought-stricken Land of Lincoln.

“We hope it’s going to go up the Mississippi River and bring rain to Illinois,” former Gov. Jim Edgar told Illinois delegates. “You know, if that happens, we really, I think, ought to take credit for that.”



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