The counterprogramming punch that Democrats planned to land on the GOP at its national convention has been pulled.
The Tampa war room that Democrats opened on Saturday has fallen silent, a testament to the power of a tropical storm and the dispiriting optics of savaging an opposing party while convention delegates shield themselves from pelting rain and slashing winds.
Vice President Joe Biden has canceled all Florida events. At first, the vice president, who had been set to become the first in American history to bash the opposing party in its convention city, scrubbed just his campaigning in Tampa. For a few hours, he clung to the idea of stumping in Orlando with actress Eva Longoria, a cochairwoman of President Obama’s reelection campaign. But that event, too, has been axed.
The Democratic National Committee also canceled all anti-GOP events on Sunday and Monday. Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz ditched a Sunday press conference designed to slam Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan over their proposed changes to Medicare. She was to stand with Florida state Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Abel Rivera, described by the committee as a “local senior.” The DNC’s war room near the GOP convention site at the Tampa Bay Times Forum will also be quiet on Monday.
“As a result of the state of emergency, we have pulled down our live events in the war room Monday,” said Brad Woodhouse, communications director for the DNC. “We’ll reassess our activities as we see how Isaac progresses.”
The pre-storm cease-fire brought an odd sense of reluctant calm to a city poised for high-voltage political jousting. Sunday was supposed to be the kickoff for a round of GOP events laying the foundation for the convention and Romney’s formal nomination and acceptance speech. Similarly, the Democrats had a day-by-day plan, with numerous members of Congress set to garble and gash the Republicans’ messaging. Instead, both parties hunkered down in a fidgety silence.
Obama’s campaign may have gone mute in Tampa, but it launched a Web video pummeling Romney before he attempts to use the GOP convention to reshape his image. Produced as a faux movie trailer, the Obama effort described the event as a convention reinvention, a movie it called The Do-Over. With characteristic charity, the DNC rated the movie “N” for “Not Gonna Work.”
The White House took care to note Obama’s work on Sunday to manage federal preparations for Isaac. Obama called Florida Gov. Rick Scott and received a briefing from Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center, while at the presidential retreat at Camp David. FEMA has, the White House said, deployed disaster-preparedness teams to Florida and Louisiana. In a statement consistent with the day’s storm-tossed partisan hush, Obama said he had asked Scott to “let him know if there are any additional resources the administration could provide, including in support of efforts to ensure the safety of those visiting the state for the Republican National Convention.”
If Isaac intensifies into a hurricane, as predicted, it could threaten a swath of the Gulf Coast and might require Obama to scale back plans to campaign this week in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia. A senior administration official said that no decisions have yet been made about altering Obama’s campaign schedule.
Democrats and Obama had been attempting to create a new oppositional dynamic during the GOP convention. War rooms to generate annoying alternate publicity at conventions is a long-standing tradition. Putting Biden on the ground was a new wrinkle, while sending Obama out for three big stops in battleground states underscored the Democrats’ need to try to deprive Romney and the GOP of a convention bump. Biden is now off the grid, and the DNC’s attacks in Tampa will be a fraction of what was planned. First lady Michelle Obama is still scheduled to appear on The Late Show With David Letterman on Wednesday—the evening that Ryan is scheduled to deliver his VP acceptance speech.
This article appears in the August 27, 2012, edition of NJ Convention Daily.