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August 27, 2012

Republican Party Opens Shortened Convention as Storm Skirts Tampa

by Michael Lipin

The U.S. Republican Party has formally opened its national convention to nominate presidential candidate Mitt Romney, but it postponed most of the first day's proceedings Monday as a tropical storm skirted the coastline of Florida, the southeastern state hosting the event.

"So it is my privilege to proclaim the 2012 Republican National Convention in session and called to order," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

Priebus gaveled in the four-day convention in the city of Tampa, and immediately adjourned the session as party officials rescheduled speeches and other events for the remaining three days. The delay was prompted by Tropical Storm Isaac, which forecasters said would pass more than 300 kilometers to the west of Tampa as it moves and strengthens across the Gulf of Mexico.

​​​​Some Republicans expressed concern that Isaac could overshadow the convention if it makes a destructive landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast later this week. They said such a development may prompt the party to tone down the event's celebratory nature.

Romney aide Russ Schriefer told reporters in Tampa the campaign is following the storm's progress closely.

"You are always concerned about the people who are in the path of the storm. And as I said, that is going to be our first priority, to make sure that we are taking their concerns into account," he said. "So we take it from there - that's where we start."

He also hinted the convention schedule could be revised again.

"As of now, there are no planned changes, but we are always revisiting [the issue] ... we are quick and nimble and I think we will be able to respond to whatever we need to," Schriefer said.

The Republican governor of the Gulf Coast state of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, canceled his planned convention speech, saying he was staying home to deal with the prospect of Isaac hitting the state as a hurricane this week. He said there is "no time for politics" in Louisiana.

​​At Monday's brief session, Republican National Committee chairman Priebus also activated two clocks showing the growth in U.S. national debt during the four-day gathering.

"We also want to draw your attention to the unprecedented fiscal recklessness of the Obama administration as depicted by the real time national debt clock shown here in the arena," he said. "For this convention, we've actually installed a second national debt clock that will log the amount of debt that accrues during the course of this convention."

President Barack Obama, the Democratic incumbent, has said federal spending has grown at the slowest pace in decades under his watch.

A Washington Post opinion poll published Monday shows Obama and Romney in a tight race for the November presidential election. It says Romney has the support of 47 percent of likely voters compared to 46 percent for Obama - little changed from early July's figures.

Another survey released late Sunday by CNN/ORC International says likely voters believe President Obama is more in touch with their needs than is his challenger. It also says those voters believe Romney has better managerial skills and a clearer plan to fix the nation's problems.

​​The Republican National Convention proceedings are due to begin Tuesday with a roll call of state delegations to formally nominate Romney and a speech by Romney's wife, Ann. The candidate's vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, is due to speak Wednesday, ahead of Romney's acceptance speech on Thursday.

Obama's running mate, Vice President Joe Biden, canceled a series of campaign stops in Florida scheduled for Monday and Tuesday because of the storm. But the Obama campaign kept up the pressure on Republicans Sunday, releasing a movie preview-style video clip mocking the convention as a vain attempt to "do over" Romney's image.

Democrats hold their convention to nominate Obama next month.

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Some information for this report was provided by AP.