CONVENTION WATCH: Romney on his way, polls tight

Associated Press + More

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Around the 2012 Republican National Convention and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details to you:

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TAMPA-BOUND

Mitt Romney will be on the way to Florida on Tuesday — the day his wife's scheduled to give her speech at the Republican National Convention.

The presumptive GOP nominee for president will arrive in Tampa on what's effectively the first day of the convention. Although it was called to order Monday, it was immediately adjourned until Tuesday because of Tropical Storm Isaac.

— Thomas Beaumont — Twitter http://twitter.com/tombeaumont

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POLLS: A TIGHTER RACE

Pre-convention polling has wrapped, and neither candidate for president begins the race to Nov. 6 with a head start.

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney begin the campaign's high season about even. Modest advantages for Obama had begun to look like the norm, but four new surveys in the last week along with Gallup's daily tracking poll found a tighter race with no discernible edge for either candidate.

An Associated Press-GfK poll puts the contest at 47 percent Obama to 46 percent for Romney among registered voters. Fox News, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Washington Post-ABC News and the Gallup tracker all report similar findings among that group.

Other common themes across this wave of polling include Obama maintaining his advantage as the more likable or empathetic candidate, while Romney continues to have his strongest performance against the president on handling the economy.

— Jennifer Agiesta — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennagiesta

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VIEWPOINTS: PROTESTS

One viewpoint, from Tampa's police chief, Jane Castor: Protesters around the GOP convention can say and do whatever they wish "as long as they don't cross the line into criminal behavior."

And another, from Cara Jennings, a voter outreach organizer from Palm Beach County, Fla.: "They've militarized Tampa."

So far, protests have been muted and only two people have been arrested. That's in stark contrast to four years ago, when hundreds of protesters were arrested at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. In Tampa, protesters, who for months planned to converge on Tampa to showcase their gripes and messages, have been peaceful and small in number.

— Mike Schneider and Tamara Lush — Twitter http://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP and http://twitter.com/TamaraLush

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STAR-SPANGLED ENCORE

He performed on the "Today" show, sang the funeral Mass for Tim Russert and belted out the national anthem for the Republicans during their last convention in 2008. On Tuesday, New Jersey-born tenor Philip Alongi Jr. is back in the political spotlight when he again sings "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the Republicans.

The young Alongi has performed more than a dozen operatic roles across the United States, including productions of Carmen, Madama Butterfly and La Traviata. Since his last convention appearance, Alongi has released the debut albums "Heritage," a collection of songs and arias of Italy, and "New Life: Songs of Faith," a collection of sacred works spanning eras from the 17th century to today.

— Leanne Italie — Twitter http://twitter.com/litalie

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NEW JUST TRY GETTING HOME

Many Republican National Convention attendees put up with delayed, diverted or canceled flights on their way to Tampa, some blamed on Tropical Storm Isaac. They can expect a bumpy ride home, too.

Airlines are already warning about the crush of passengers heading out of town at week's end. Delta Air Lines is advising travelers to arrive at Tampa International Airport at least two hours early to deal with security, crowds and assorted delays "outside of our control."

— Brian Bakst — Twitter ?http://twitter.com/Stowydad

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TRUMP'S TEASE

For weeks, showman Donald Trump has been doing the slow tease about his plans for the GOP convention.

He was asked to speak, he says, but decided to do something "bigger." Something "very, very major." Something "hopefully quite amazing."

Trump was in Sarasota, Fla., over the weekend to accept an award, but headed back to New York when Monday's convention activities were pared down due to Tropical Storm Isaac.

Does that mean no more surprise?

"The big surprise is still going to happen, so stay tuned," promises Trump spokesman Michael Cohen.

GOP officials are playing along. Says convention planner Russ Schriefer: "Just because he isn't here, doesn't mean he's not going to show up."

— Nancy Benac — Twitter http://twitter.com/nbenac

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THE PRESIDENT'S PEN

His rivals may be convening in Florida this week. But at the White House, President Barack Obama is getting ready for his big moment next week — at the Democratic National Convention.

Aides say Obama spent part of Monday working on the speech he'll deliver at his party's gathering in Charlotte, N.C. A working draft, they say, has already been developed.

— Ken Thomas — Twitter http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas

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DOG FIGHT

At least one Tampa, Fla., rally's gone to the dogs already.

Amid a protest objecting to the way Mitt Romney transported the family pet on a years-ago vacation — inside an animal carrier strapped atop the car — a woman stepped into the crowd and began loudly defending the GOP candidate.

"What Mitt Romney did to his dog, his dog liked and it was safe and enjoyable," said Barbara Seidenberg. As several canine-toting protesters tried to shout her down, she pressed on.

"Barack Obama was a 10-year-old boy when he ate dog," she said, apparently referring to a passage in one of Obama's books in which he writes about eating dog meat as a boy in Indonesia. "But he was a grown man when he decided his whole persona and his life was going to be committed to turning this country into less of a country so that — "

She was drowned out by a protester yelling "Obama 2012!"

A shouting match ensued, and Seidenberg stormed off.

__ Peter Prengaman — Twitter http://twitter.com/peterprengaman

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CAIN WEIGHS IN

At one point, he was a serious challenger for the GOP nomination. But Herman Cain says he's not upset about being excluded from the list of speakers at the Republican National Convention this week.

Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan helped him carve out a unique niche in the primary, with some polls showing him moving toward taking the lead in the fall. But allegations of sexual harassment derailed his candidacy.

Cain is making the rounds in Tampa. He tells CNN that he has met one-on-one with presumptive nominee Mitt Romney on at least three occasions in recent months. He says he's not upset about his lack of a speaking slot because other black Republican speakers needed the exposure more than he did.

Cain says the allegations that derailed his candidacy were part of a coordinated attack, but he didn't say whether the effort was undertaken by a particular Republican or a Democratic campaign: "I don't want to say anything that might jeopardize what we might do in the future in terms of exposing what happened."

— Kevin Freking — Twitter http://twitter.com/APKFreking

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ISAAC'S UGLY, BUT NO KATRINA

Isaac is sweeping up the Gulf Coast just in time for the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans.

A tropical storm expected to strengthen into a hurricane, Isaac could prove punishing. But it's nowhere near as powerful as the bruiser that struck on Aug. 29, 2005.

At one point, Katrina reached Category 5 status with winds over 157 mph. It made landfall as a Category 3 with a huge storm surge. Levee failures caused catastrophic flooding.

This time, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials say the updated levees around New Orleans are equipped to handle storms stronger than Isaac. City officials had no plans to order evacuations, instead telling residents to hunker down and make do with the supplies they have.

"It's going to be all right," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Isaac promises a soaking but not much more for Tampa, Fla., where the Republican National Convention was pushed back a day just in case.

__ Kevin McGill in New Orleans

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SAY IT IN SONG

Why say it when you can sing it?

Most speeches at this week's Republican National Convention are set to a particular theme for the day. "We Built It," is Tuesday's mantra, a poke at Obama's "You didn't build that" line at a July campaign event.

A convention entertainer will sing about it. Guitarist Lane Turner rehearsed his tune "I Built It" in a sparsely filled convention hall Monday.

"I built it with my own two working hands," goes the chorus. "Yeah I built it. No help from Uncle Sam."

Obama's campaign argues that his words, meant to stress the value of government in fostering infrastructure, were taken out of context.

— Brian Bakst — Twitter http://twitter.com/Stowydad

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VOIGHT ON OBAMA

The Virginia delegation served up some celebrity with its political breakfast Monday.

Jon Voight, the Academy Award-winning actor better known to today's moviegoers as the father of Angelina Jolie, joined Tagg Romney, son of the presidential candidate, to talk government spending, media coverage and President Barack Obama's record at the delegation's morning session.

Delegate Erin Smith of Leesburg, Va., says Voight complained that the media wasn't providing balanced coverage of the two candidates. She says Voight also argued that on several issues Obama campaigned on, he acted differently in office.

— Donna Cassata — http://twitter.com/donnacassataAP

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TEMPEST IN A TOTE BAG?

Maybe Mitt Romney assumes GOP delegates won't read all the way to page 177 of his book, "No Apology," included in their gift bags.

If they do, they'll find an uncomfortable sentence for Romney — a sentence dropped from the paperback edition. It alludes to his push, as Massachusetts governor, to require all residents to obtain insurance as part of health care reforms.

"We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care," Romney wrote. That sounds a lot like the health care mandate in "Obamacare," which Romney now vows to undo.

In the paperback edition, the passage refers only to preventing a government takeover of health care. Publications including the Washington Examiner took note of the hardback's presence at the convention.

Of course, hardbacks make nicer gifts. And the swag bags don't include much else — mints and sunglasses, mainly.

— Charles Babington — Twitter http://twitter.com/cbabington

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A CAREFUL TONE

"You can tone down the happy-days-are-here-again a bit. Maybe you don't have the biggest balloon drop in history." — Rich Galen, veteran Republican consultant in Washington, discussing how to strike an appropriate tone at a convention that unfolds against the backdrop of a major storm.

— Thomas Beaumont — Twitter http://twitter.com/tombeaumont

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5 GUYS, 5 WORDS

The five Romney sons got one word each to describe Dad during a Fox News Channel interview. What they came up with:

Craig: "Qualified."

Ben: "Frugal."

Josh: "Cheap."

Matt: "Integrity."

Tagg: "Generous."

— Nancy Benac — Twitter http://twitter.com/nbenac

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HURRICANE GOP?

Dorothy Crockett says she wasn't about to let Isaac, the tropical storm gaining hurricane strength, keep her from a minute of the Republican National Convention.

The Arkansas spitfire — decked out in red, white and blue from her jacket to her earrings — was among a couple hundred delegates who showed up for the abbreviated opening Monday despite the cancellation of the speaking schedule.

"At my age I have never experienced a hurricane," the 77-year-old from northeast Arkansas says. "The only hurricane I want to experience is the Republicans taking over the House, the Senate and the White House. This is the Republican hurricane."

— Brian Bakst — Twitter http://twitter.com/Stowydad

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CHOICE SEATING

Mitt Romney's adopted state of Massachusetts is rewarded at the Republican National Convention with prime seating — just feet from where he'll accept the nomination this week. It's a rare honor for Massachusetts, a Democratic bastion used to being relegated to the back of the hall.

Kerry Healy, who served as lieutenant governor under Romney, is at the front of the front next to others who helped his rise. It reflects, Healy says, "a new thing for Massachusetts to have a Republican nominee for president. We have had plenty of the other kind."

Also in choice seats: delegates from battleground states of Virginia and Ohio as well as Romney's birth state of Michigan and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin.

— Brian Bakst — Twitter http://twitter.com/Stowydad

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