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Mitt Romney acknowledges Todd Akin’s comments hurt GOP

Behind Ohio state delegate sign pictures Ohio native Neil Armstrong first man walk moare displayed mastage Republican National ConventiTampFla. Sunday

Behind Ohio state delegate sign, pictures of Ohio native Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, are displayed on the main stage the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012. Armstrong died on Saturday. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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Updated: September 28, 2012 6:19AM

TAMPA — With Tropical Storm Isaac descending on Florida, Republicans reconfigured their storm-shortened national convention Sunday as Mitt Romney acknowledged politically incendiary rape comments by U.S. Rep. Todd Akin have hurt the GOP.

The continuing Akin controversy and the storm, while not perhaps posing a direct hit on Tampa as predicted but nonetheless turning toward Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, disrupted a clean start for Republican convention organizers, who already had canceled Monday’s session.

On Sunday, all but “a couple” of the 350-member Illinois delegation made it safely to Tampa without any delay, with the only noticeable storm-related casualties being a day of lost convention speeches and a delegation planned beach party on Monday having to be moved inside.

Asked the impact of the storm on the state’s contingent, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, chairman of Romney’s Illinois campaign and the state’s GOP convention delegation, said: “Nothing. Everything’s going to go on.”

On Sunday, convention organizers announced lengthened session days during the balance of the convention and demanded shorter speeches to accommodate as many speakers as possible from the aborted Monday lineup.

“By doing that, we can maintain all of our headliners, put them in Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and be able to continue our program,” said Russ Schriefer, a senior strategist for the Romney campaign and producer of the Tampa convention.

That means Romney’s wife, Ann, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be the headliners Tuesday night. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Romney’s running mate, will anchor the Wednesday lineup.

And, in a scheduling move underscoring Florida’s importance as a swing state Republicans must win to retake the White House, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will introduce Romney’s convention keynote on Thursday.

Also, the convention’s updated program will include a tribute to the late Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon. He died Saturday of complications from a cardiovascular procedure. He was 82.

Isaac was forecast to leave behind up to four inches of rain in Tampa Sunday — less than previously predicted — and potentially be on a track for New Orleans, which like other areas of the Gulf Coast was placed under a hurricane warning by forecasters.

That possibility leaves convention organizers to stew over the possibility of yet another weather-related optics problem later in the week: potential hurricane devastation in New Orleans or elsewhere overshadowing the remainder of the GOP convention and reminding voters of former President George W. Bush’s mishandling of the Katrina disaster.

“We’re obviously monitoring what is going on with the weather,” Schriefer told reporters in a conference call. “Our concern has to be with the people who are in the path of the storm. All of this is taken into consideration.

“And as soon as we have any more information that may affect what we do in terms of program or any kind of schedule, we’ll let you know as soon as we know. But until we know that and we can predict the weather, we’re going to continue with a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday schedule,” he said.

In picking Florida as its convention site during hurricane season, Republicans knew the risks of making the state their host but believed they had enough historical evidence to support Tampa as a safe locale.

The bigger consideration was that Florida is a key battleground state in Romney’s bid to unseat President Barack Obama, and Tampa — much like DuPage County in Illinois — is home to a core of Republican voters who must be energized on election day for Romney to surge ahead in the polls here.

Beyond the last-minute re-jiggering of the convention lineup, the day’s other news involved a convention-opening interview Romney and his wife granted Fox News.

During the interview, Romney acknowledged the political damage caused by Akin’s suggestion that “legitimate” rape victims somehow have a physiological immunity to pregnancy — a statement for which Akin apologized. The Missouri congressman has refused to exit his U.S. Senate race against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

The controversy over Akin “hurts our party and I think is damaging to women,” Romney said.

Romney also went on the attack against Obama for trying to milk the controversy rather than make strides against a stagnant economy and high unemployment.

“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,” Romney said.

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