By Ted Johnson
TAMPA, Fla. — Tropical Storm Isaac is raising questions among the media horde and planners here about how the Republican National Convention will proceed this week, especially if the storm develops into a hurricane and wreaks havoc on the Gulf Coast.
Already, the Republican National Committee cancelled Monday’s events, and shifted speakers who were scheduled then for the three remaining days of the convention, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
But some of the major news media here are already shifting resources. A spokeswoman for Fox News said that Shepard Smith was on his way to New Orleans, where he will anchor his show. He had been scheduled to his nightly newscast from Tampa, along with the rest of the news channel’s nightly lineup.
Russ Schriefer, senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign, said that they continue to proceed for convention days on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but that they are monitoring the situation.
“Our concern is with the people in the path of the storm, and all this has to be taken into consideration,” he said.
He declined to say whether an option would be extending the convention into later in the week. He said that under current plans the major “headliner” speakers have been kept on the convention schedule, even after canceling Monday. He also said that they have not changed their plans at all for speakers scheduled from 10 to 11 p..m. ET on each of the three nights, a key given that the three broadcast networks are only devoting those slots to primetime convention coverage. Ann Romney is among those scheduled for Tuesday; Chris Christie, Condoleezza Rice, Susana Martinez and running mate Paul Ryan for Wednesday; and Marco Rubio and Romney for Thursday.
Although the brunt of the tropical storm appeared to be heading west of Tampa, expected rains were enough to force the cancellation of some convention-related events, including a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert on Sunday evening.
But even if the storm largely bypasses Tampa, there are questions of what tone the convention should take as it hits landfall elsewhere.
The prospect of a split screen of a convention jubilation, as news networks also switch to updates from the hurricane, was too much of a politically perilous juxtaposition for Republican convention planners back in 2008. The first day of that convention, from St. Paul, Minn., was cancelled as a hurricane headed toward New Orleans, which once again appears to be in a path of a treacherous storm.
Downtown Tampa on Sunday had occasional gusts of wind and drops of rain, but inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, things were proceeding. Media from around the country did preview stand ups on the convention floor, former “Saturday Night Live” band director G.D. Smith practiced rock standards with a house band, and producers set up the stage’s 13 LED screens with a tribute to Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon who died Saturday. Showing off one of this convention’s innovations, a galaxy of swirling stars swirled on screens covering a portion of the stage with other screens featuring photos from Armstrong’s career.
Security, as could be expected, is tight, perhaps even more so than in 2008. The maze-like walk from the security perimeter to the metal detectors inside the Times forum is 3/5ths of a mile long. Portions of the walkway to the arena are covered by an air-conditioned tent, lit by red, white and blue bulbed floor lamps but giving the sound and feel of a descent into a futuristic industrial plant.
There were some protests on the streets of downtown, under a watchful police presence, including one featuring a dummied caricature of Romney and the sign “King of the 1 Percent.”
With dozens of journalists arrested in security sweeps as they covered the convention in 2008, as they checked in to get their credentials on Sunday, they were given a one page instruction manual from the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, with a hotline number for legal aid.