By BRIAN BAKST and JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — No convention speeches Monday? No problem.
Republican delegates from Arkansas to Wisconsin didn't let a storm-shortened schedule spoil the party. They bounced from reception to reception, dishing with their friends and scooping up free food. They posed for delegation photos. A couple hundred milled about at the arena to watch party head Reince Priebus gavel the convention in and then out in a flash.
As tropical storm Isaac churned toward the Gulf Coast, lashing Florida along the way, Dorothy Crockett made her way to the arena for the convention's truncated opening — the only official event not canceled on Monday.
"The only hurricane I want to experience is the Republicans taking over the House, the Senate and the White House," said Crockett, a 77-year old delegate from Osceola, Ark., decked out in red, white and blue from her jacket to her earrings. "This is the Republican hurricane."
Biding their time until events ramp up Tuesday, delegates spent the day getting pep talks from party leaders and holding rallies with governors. Some said they were stocked with reading material. Others scoped out the arena, taping nametags to seats, and took photos in front of the empty podium.
Plus, there are always the parties — catered receptions scheduled from morning to night.
"We're in an upbeat mood," said Stan Stein, the North Dakota Republican Party chairman. "A little bit of weather isn't going to stop us from doing what we need to do."
Priebus opened the convention Monday with the pound of the gavel, then less than two minutes later, called a recess until Tuesday, when Republicans will commence a condensed three-day nominating confab for Mitt Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
In downtown Tampa, delegates said they were using the downtime to trade stories and strategies with Republicans from all over the country. "I don't look at it like I'm losing a day. I feel like I'm gaining a day to catch up with old friends," said Sol Grosskopf, a Wisconsin delegate and seminary student.
The Wisconsin delegation got a morning briefing from Preibus, who chaired their state party before his election as national party chief, and Gov. Scott Walker before assembling for a group photo. At his hotel not far from the convention arena, first-time delegate Jeff Johns from Cedarburg, Wis., savored the chance for a breather after having been on the go ever since his weekend arrival.
"This is the most relaxed I've been since I've been here," he said, reading a newspaper in the lobby. "I've been on my feet the whole time."
Delegates described being underwhelmed by the weather — a little rain here, a little sun there, and lots of wind. In Tampa, the weather fell short of the potential inclement conditions that led RNC officials to cancel the first day in the interest of safety.
"We didn't even take umbrellas this morning. We didn't need them," said Pennsylvania delegate Marion Taxin at her hotel after returning from an event at the city's aquarium with her home-state governor.
Delegate Tom Del Beccaro, who heads the California GOP, said his state's delegates were revved up from a morning rally with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and predicted the bottled-up energy would spill into an even more animated convention starting Tuesday.
Meanwhile, delegates from New York, South Dakota, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Wisconsin were gearing up for a joint "party on the pier" event that had been scheduled for 11 p.m. Monday but was bumped up to early evening take advantage of the hours they would have spent listening to GOP luminaries John Boehner and Mike Huckabee.
With Isaac barreling toward the coast near New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina's seventh anniversary, GOP officials in Gulf states called off their plans to attend the convention. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal scrapped his much-awaited speech on Wednesday.
The catastrophic Katrina hit New Orleans as a Category 5 storm with winds topping 157 miles per hour, churning up a surge that breached the levees and flooded more than 80 percent of the city. Close to 2,000 deaths were blamed on the storm.
But delegates said they weren't concerned that the decision to proceed with the festivities with potential disaster looming would strike some as tone-deaf.
To cancel the convention, the delegates said, would be to abdicate their responsibility to represent the voters who sent them to Tampa.
"The convention certainly is full of the ceremonial and the balloons, but we have to officially nominate a candidate," said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Pennsylvania. "It's an official duty that has to occur."
Lederman reported from Washington.
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