TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Republicans staged a remarkably subdued opening to Mitt Romney’s national convention Monday in the midst of a turbulent election year, wary of uncorking a glittery political celebration as Tropical Storm Isaac surged menacingly toward New Orleans and the northern Gulf Coast.
There was speculation that the Republican man of the hour would make an unannounced visit to the convention hall Tuesday night when his wife, Ann, was on the speaking program. Aides declined to comment but did not rule it out.
Virtually every party leader spoke somberly of the storm’s potential damage during the day, including the candidate. “Our thoughts are with the people that are in the storm’s path and hope that they’re spared any major destruction,” said Romney, the man seeking to defeat Democratic President Barack Obama.
Though Republicans are intent on turning the campaign’s focus back to the nation’s sluggish economic growth and high unemployment, a comment Romney made on abortion reintroduced a topic that had taken over campaign discussion last week. In a CBS interview, he sai
d he opposes abortions except “in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother.”
That underscored his difference of opinion on the subject with his
running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, as well as with his own convention platform, which opposes all abortions.
Any exceptions made solely on the basis of a woman’s health have drawn particularly fierce criticism from abortion foes for years, and Romney’s aides said he wasn’t advocating an exemption
on that basis alone.
“Governor Romney’s position is clear: He opposes abortion except for cases of rape, incest and where the life of the mother is threatened,” said Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman.
The convention’s first session lasted scarcely a minute, just long enough for the party’s chairman, Reince Priebus, to rap a gavel and declare the gathering open for business. As he did, high above the floor, numbers began flashing across an electronic tally board labeled “Debt from Convention Start,” meant to show the government steadily borrowing under Obama’s leadership throughout the convention.
The week was turning out to be about both meteorology and politics. Romney’s top aides and convention planners were juggling their desire for a robust rouse-the-Republicans convention with concern about appearing uncaring as New Orleans faced a threat from Isaac precisely seven years after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Forecasters predicted Isaac would intensify into a Category 1 hurricane by Tuesday with top sustained winds between 74 and 95 mph, and said its projected path went through New Orleans.
Opinion polls made the presidential race nearly even as Republicans launched their convention, although it appeared Obama had a slim advantage in battleground states where the election is most likely to be decided. It was anything but certain what the impact would be on the campaign of back-to-back convention weeks, first Romney’s and then the president’
s in Charlotte, N.C.