TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney's Republican National Convention sputters to life Monday with the lonely banging of a gavel in a mostly empty hall, then hits full speed on Tuesday, just as forecasters say Tropical Storm Isaac 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 at a New Hampshire high school auditorium. He suggested there were no thoughts of canceling the gathering.
Romney said he hopes those in the storm's path are "spared any major destruction." Looking ahead, the former Massachusetts governor signaled that he and his wife Ann are close to finalizing their speeches.
Tom Del Beccaro, a California delegate and chair of the state GOP, predicted the one-day delay would supercharge the rest of the convention.
"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 risked the juxtaposition of Republicans partying as the storm batters toward the gulf — 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 Reince 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."