TAMPA, Fla. >> Republicans kicked off Mitt Romney’s national convention Monday with the banging of a gavel before a smattering of delegates as Tropical Storm Isaac led them to cancel most of the opening-day program.
Party Chairman Reince Priebus pounded the gavel, cited the convention rules requiring a 2 p.m. Monday start and then immediately recessed the session. It took less than two minutes.
Priebus then instructed delegates to look up at two “debt clocks” — one that reflects the actual national debt and a second that counts up rising debt during the convention. It was quickly in six figures.
The convention will hit full speed on Tuesday, just as forecasters say the storm could reach hurricane strength and make landfall somewhere between Mississippi and New Orleans.
“Our sons are already in Tampa and they say it’s terrific there, a lot of great friends. And we’re looking forward to a great convention,” Romney said as he prepared to rehearse his convention speech Monday at a New Hampshire high school auditorium.
He said he hoped those in the storm’s path would be “spared any major destruction” but indicated there were no thoughts of canceling the convention in Tampa, where Isaac’s heavy rain had all but passed.
Tom Del Beccaro, a California delegate and chair of the state GOP, predicted the one-day delay in full convention events would supercharge the rest of the week’s meeting.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of bottled up energy, and I think that’s going to show,” he said.
But Sally Bradshaw, a Florida Republican and longtime senior aide to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was not so sanguine. “It’s a mess all around and it’s fraught with risk,” she said. “It’s not good for anybody — particularly the people impacted by the storm.”
It was hardly the opening splash that convention planners had hoped for, and it risked the juxtaposition of Republicans partying as the storm batters toward land — almost exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
“Obviously we want to pray for anyone that’s in the pathway of this storm,” Party Chairman Priebus said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show, “but the message is still the same: that all Americans deserve a better future and that this president … didn’t keep the promises he made in 2008.”
The party hastily rewrote the convention script to present the extravaganza’s prime rituals and headline speakers later in the week, and further changes were possible. Planners said Monday’s speakers would be worked into the schedule later in the week.
“We’re going to continue with our Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday schedule,” said Russ Schriefer, the chief convention planner.