TAMPA, Fla. — With Tropical Storm Isaac bearing down on the Gulf Coast, Republicans left open the possibility of bigger changes to Mitt Romney’s already-shortened convention, mindful of political awkwardness in celebrating while severe weather threatens New Orleans on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
“There’s a weather event. We all know there’s a weather event there,” Russ Schriefer, Romney’s chief planner, said Sunday when asked about a potential image problem. “We’re obviously monitoring what is going on with the weather. Our concern is with those people in the path of the storm.”
After scrapping the convention’s first day, planners late Sunday announced a three-day program and leaner agenda. But they wouldn’t speculate whether the storm would force a second postponement or any additional changes.
“We’re moving forward, but we are going to be nimble,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said.
Schriefer sidestepped a question about the potentially problematic appearance of Republicans partying while a hurricane bore down on the very city that cast a pall over the last GOP administration.
“You don’t want to be having hoopla and dancing when you have the nation focused on tragedy and suffering,” said Al Hoffman, a Republican from West Palm Beach and former finance chairman of the RNC.
Romney’s team was sensitive to the comparison to the 2005 storm, which was a Category 5 hurricane. Isaac, still a tropical storm, is forecast to reach hurricane strength.
When asked about the optics, Charlie Black, a veteran GOP strategist and informal adviser to Romney, sharply noted that Romney played no role in the Bush administration’s handling of the catastrophe.
Beyond the safety and image concerns, Isaac presents another wrinkle for Romney: It allows President Obama to show leadership and flex the levers of his administration to help people bracing for a storm.
The question Romney and his team continue to weigh: how to proceed with the party while being sensitive to the uncertainty of Isaac and its potential to wreak havoc on the Gulf Coast, which has become a symbol of dysfunctional government under a Republican administration.
Among the considerations: whether to tone down plans to sharply criticize Obama and focus more heavily on Romney’s other goal, promoting his own vision. Speakers scheduled for Monday had planned to start making the case against Obama.
Republican strategists suggested Romney celebrate without going overboard.
“You can tone down the happy-days-are-here-again a bit,” said Rich Galen, a veteran Republican consultant in Washington. “Maybe you don’t have the biggest balloon drop in history.”