Romney Faces a Balancing Act

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – The political risk was slight for Mitt Romney in scrapping the first day of his Florida convention in the face of Tropical Storm Isaac: TV networks weren’t planning to broadcast it live anyway.

As the storm veered toward New Orleans, however, the decision about what to do next was fraught with peril. Romney is trying to balance celebrating his presidential nomination with being mindful of the ghost of Hurricane Katrina.

“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 Republican National Committee.

The next few days will test Romney’s ability to both present himself to the American people as a plausible alternative to President Barack Obama and to lead a party still smarting from the image hit it took in the aftermath of the 2005 Gulf Coast devastation.

Republicans delayed the start of their national convention by a day in 2008 when Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf, a full 1,200 miles away from where delegates were gathering in St. Paul, Minn.

Four years later, a storm again has delayed the start of the convention – and again is barreling toward New Orleans, the city that Katrina so badly damaged.

Memories of Katrina hung heavy over Tampa as Republican delegates traveled here to anoint the party’s new standard-bearer. All over Florida – a critical battleground state – people were preparing for the worst. Homes and shops were boarded up in Key West. About 800 miles northwest in the Florida panhandle, the Wal-Mart in Destin, Fla., had sold out of bottled water.

By Sunday afternoon, Tampa was cloud-covered and windy outside the hall where Romney is to accept the nomination Thursday night. Inside, tense Romney advisers huddled to figure out how to proceed.

“It’s a mess all around and it’s fraught with risk,” said Sally Bradshaw, a Florida Republican and longtime senior aide to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “It’s not good for anybody – particularly the people impacted by the storm.”

Weather was recognized as potential trouble when Republicans chose to hold their convention in Florida during hurricane season, a decision made well before Romney locked up the nomination.

Beyond the safety and image concerns, Isaac presents another wrinkle for Romney: It allows Obama to show leadership and flex the levers of his administration to help people bracing for a storm.

As forecasts grew grim, Obama dispatched the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist, and the White House said the president was closely monitoring the storm.

“The president also told the governor to let him know if there are any unmet needs or additional resources the administration could provide, including in support of efforts to ensure the safety of those visiting the state for the Republican National Convention,” the White House said Sunday.

The president had no immediate plans to visit. But he might if the damage is severe. And if he does, Romney would have to weigh whether to proceed with his convention or scrap more parts of it – and cede the limelight to the man who holds the office he wants.

Mindful of the danger of appearing to put politics before safety, Vice President Joe Biden, canceled a campaign swing through Florida today and Tuesday.