Is Isaac about to steal Mitt Romney’s limelight?
For the first time, Republican National Convention officials conceded on Monday morning that even their shortened schedule of festivities could be in flux as Tropical Storm Isaac bears down on New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas.
Perhaps there was too much confidence over the weekend that if the storm’s path would brush past host city Tampa, all would simply be OK. Canceling most of Monday night’s opening events -- and squeezing speeches and nominating votes into three days -- had seemed to risk little real impact. After all, GOP officials reasoned, the networks weren’t planning to broadcast live Monday night.
But with Isaac now threatening to be headed directly at New Orleans -- and a strike expected on Wednesday with winds of over 100 mph possible -- attention is being diverted from Tampa, where Republicans hoped that their party and presidential candidate would be able to define themselves, unfiltered, on a national stage.
“We certainly were not in their shoes," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., of the thinking by Romney and his convention team. "But it’s not clear whether they were even thinking about problem No. 2 when they were thinking about problem No. 1.”
But Neil Newhouse, Romney’s chief pollster, said that approach has obvious limitations: "How do you handle an issue over which you have no authority?”
RNC officials conceded Monday that now plans for even a shortened three-day convention were in doubt, and that they are considering a number of worst-case scenarios, such as a quick roll call and truncating speech by Romney.
Romney adviser Russ Schriefer reiterated Monday that Republican officials are taking a “wait-and-see” approach to the convention schedule as Isaac approaches the Gulf Coast region. But he said that “You’re always concerned about people in path of the storm,” and that “that’s going to be our first priority. We’ll take it from there.” On Saturday, Romney himself had tweeted, “The safety of those in Isaac's path is of the utmost importance.”
Miringoff said the political trickiness for Republicans lies largely in the fact that they are faced this week with trying to shake two troubling perceptions. One is the sense by many that Romney lacks compassion, and the other is of former President George W. Bush’s seeming lack of empathy for victims in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.
“Now, what if Isaac hits New Orleans? The image of balloons falling down in Tampa, while New Orleans deals with potential disaster again is certainly not the image Republicans want to leave voters this week,” he said.
Already, coverage of the political events in Tampa are giving way on network and cable-TV new programs to split-screen coverage, with focus on Isaac and New Orleans under a state of emergency stealing much of the limelight.
For some convention delegates, the worry hits home – literally.
Lloyd Harsch, an alternate delegate and professor of Christian history at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is all too familiar with hurricane destruction. He lost his home -- in the Upper Ninth Ward -- during Hurricane Katrina and was forced to relocate to Texas with his family for a year. His school held its courses online as they rebuilt from the storm.
This time around, Harsch says he is cautiously optimistic that New Orleans will be able to handle Hurricane Isaac. His wife is back home, prepared to evacuate their home if necessary. Most importantly, he credits a new wave of leadership -- Republican and Democratic alike -- that’s taken control of the state and city and provided governing aptitude to a region that was badly in need of it during Hurricane Katrina.
“One thing that’s comforting this time is that we have good, competent leadership in Gov. [Bobby] Jindal and Mayor [Mitch] Landrieu. It’s comforting that they’ll make decisions with people’s safety in mind, and not trying to score political points,” he said.
Nearly all of the elected officials – Jindal included – returned back home to handle storm preparations, but most of the party activists stuck around.
Alex Roarty, Josh Kraushaar and Ron Fournier contributed