By DAVID ESPO, Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Republican officials abruptly announced plans Saturday night to scrap the first day of their national convention, bowing to the threat of Tropical Storm Isaac as it bore down menacingly on Florida.
"The safety of those in Isaac's path is of the utmost importance," tweeted Mitt Romney, his formal nomination as presidential candidate pushed back by a minimum of 24 hours from Monday night to Tuesday.
The announcement was made as delegates and other convention-goers flocked to the Tampa Bay area by the planeload for what had been scripted as four days of political pageantry and speechmaking with a purpose — to propel Romney into the fall campaign against President Barack Obama.
Officials said they hoped to begin laying out a revised schedule on Sunday.
Romney campaigned in battleground Ohio during the day, pledging to help female entrepreneurs and innovators who are eager to create small businesses and the jobs that go with them. It was an economy-themed countdown to a convention taking shape in a city already bristling with security — and bracing for a possible hurricane.
"Women in this country are more likely to start businesses than men. Women need our help," said the Republican presidential challenger, eager to relegate recent controversy over abortion to the sidelines and make the nation's slow economic recovery the dominant issue of his convention week.
Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chairman, told reporters on an early evening conference call that no state delegations had changed their travel plans because of the storm. "Everyone is planning on being here and we hope we are up and running and expect all of our delegates to be here," he said.
Yet with rain and high winds in the forecast, and with the threat of a storm surge and possible flooding, convention organizers said they were making contingency plans to move delegates who have been booked into beachfront hotels to other locations if necessary.
North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Stan Stein said he needed instructions on preparing emergency kits for the 65 to 70 people in his state's contingent staying at a hotel 200 yards off the water in Treasure Island. "We do blizzards. We can handle them, but we're just going to go on the advice we're getting from hotel management on how to prepare for this," he said.
"Our first priority is ensuring the safety of delegates, alternates, guests, members of the media attending the Republican National Convention, and citizens of the Tampa Bay area," convention CEO Bill Harris said in an emailed announcement that followed private conversations involving Romney's campaign, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office, security officials and others.
The announcement said that while the convention would officially be gaveled into session on Monday as scheduled, the day's events would be cancelled until Tuesday.
The announcement made the GOP convention the party's second in a row to be disrupted by weather. Four years ago, the delegates gathered in St. Paul, Minn., but Hurricane Gustav, slamming the Gulf Coast, led to a one-day postponement.
In that case, party officials rewrote their script to make President George W. Bush's speech into a video appearance, and to cancel plans for Vice President Dick Cheney to appear before the delegates. Both men were unpopular at the time.
Four years later, there was no immediate sign that Romney's forces would do anything other than squeeze two nights' of platform programming into one. Nor did it appear the postponement would cost them much in political terms, since the television networks had already announced they would not be carrying any of Monday's events live.
Despite the disruption, Priebus said, "we are optimistic that we will begin an exciting, robust convention that will nominate the Romney-Ryan ticket."
Plans had called for the convention to open Monday with quick ratification of a conservative platform expected, followed by Romney's nomination in a traditional roll call of the states timed for network evening news coverage.
Barring further postponements it will end Thursday with his prime-time acceptance speech, which aides hope will propel him into a successful fall campaign and, eventually, the White House.