The more things change, the more they stay the same. Republican officials unveiled their revised schedule on Sunday evening, revealing an unchanged prime-time lineup for Tuesday through Thursday night and the seemingly seamless addition of Monday’s speakers to the rest of the schedule.
But even as they appeared to finally cement a convention schedule that had been in flux since Tropical Storm Isaac forced the cancellation of Monday’s programming, the event’s organizers acknowledged the storm’s continued and possibly devastating march could force further changes.
“We are continuing to plan for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, but at the same time we’re obviously monitoring what’s going on with the weather,” Russ Schriefer, an adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign, said in a conference call with reporters. “But our concern has to be with people in the path” of the storm.
However, Schriefer did not explicitly knock down speculation that the convention could be extended by one day to Friday, emphasizing that he can’t predict the storm’s path and didn’t want to answer any “hypotheticals.”
So, in a way, the Romney campaign finds itself in the same situation it was in last week, when it was dogged by speculation that Isaac could delay or even cancel the event. The difference now is instead of concern over the storm hitting Tampa, Republicans must worry about it striking New Orleans. The city was put under a hurricane warning on Sunday.
The sensitivity is obvious: Republicans don’t want to be seen as partying while a storm hits a city that only seven years ago was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The perceived lackluster response from the Bush administration to that natural disaster helped sink the Republican president’s political standing — memories the Romney campaign does want to conjure up.
The former Bay State governor’s most sensitive schedule change was to that of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was set to speak on Monday night. The Romney campaign moved Huckabee's speech to Wednesday night.
The 2008 presidential contender, a pastor with his own TV and radio shows, is a popular political figures among evangelicals, the group of voters most resistant to Romney’s candidacy during the primaries. They have rallied around Romney since the start of the general-election race, but a perceived slight to Huckabee could have reopened the old wound.
Other luminaries who had their Monday speaking slots moved include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, now speaking on Thursday night, and libertarian favorite Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., now speaking on Wednesday.
The schedule also included one other surprise addition: former House Speaker and Romney primary rival Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista, who are now slated to speak on Thursday evening.
Despite the last-minute pressure to make changes, buyer’s remorse over the selection of the convention city — or public pining for runners-up Salt Lake City and Phoenix — appears scarce.
Conventioneers say a major storm would have pushed back the start of a national convention whether the host city was going to be directly affected or not, as Hurricane Gustav did in 2008 in when the GOP convened in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“If the convention were in San Diego or New York City or Atlanta or any other city, there would likely be a suspension of convention activities due to the impending landfall of the storm,” Justin Sayfie, a former top aide to Jeb Bush and publisher of a prominent Florida political site, told National Journal on Sunday.
“It’s really necessary to suspend the convention, because a natural disaster supersedes pure politics. And it would not send the right message or be perceived well by anyone if some of the most powerful people in the country were focused on politics and not on preparation and response to the potential natural disaster,” Sayfie said.
The Republican National Committee awarded Tampa the convention in May 2010, after the city had been shut out of two previous convention bids. On Sunday, then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele waved off suggestions that the party had erred under his leadership in selecting Tampa two years ago.
“I get blamed for everything apparently these days,” Steele said on MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes. “I’m convenient.… We set this in motion two years ago. Like we could forecast the weather?”
Hillsborough County, home to Tampa, has voted for every successful presidential candidate since 1960, save one. In 1992, the county opted for a second term for President George H.W. Bush over Bill Clinton or Ross Perot. With a population of 1.2 million, the county at the intersection of I-4 and I-75 voted twice for President George W. Bush. Four years ago it gave Barack Obama a 7 percentage-point margin.
The cancellation of one of the convention's four days could limit the political impact of an event Republicans believe should lift Romney in the polls. Some in the party dismissed those concerns on Sunday.
Appearing on NBC's Meet The Press, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., discounted the importance of the convention’s opening night, which the major broadcast networks had already decided not to air. But any further cancellations would be “unfortunate,” he said.
“It’s Wednesday and Thursday night that are the big moments,” McCain said. “I don’t think it’ll be damaging if we lose that first night. But it could be harmful if we lose more than that.”