Messaging around the storm

Messaging around the storm
Isaac presents a serious challenge for Republican convention organizers. 

TAMPA, Fla.—The potential for a powerful hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast later this week puts Republican National Convention organizers in a real quandary—how to get the most out of the party’s convention without appearing insensitive to those impacted by the storm.  

"I would imagine everyone's willing to bend the rules here to make sure Republicans don't come out looking crass,” says Republican strategist Phillip Stutts.

Whether that means postponing events another night or two or even scrapping the vast majority of the convention week, Stutts is unsure, but he thinks all of those options should remain on the table.

Convention organizers have already crammed the original four day schedule into three. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus will gavel the convention to order Monday afternoon for a session scheduled to last just about five minutes. The convention will then stand in recess until Tuesday.

On a conference call with reporters Sunday, top Romney strategist Russ Schriefer said the party is moving full steam ahead with the new Tuesday thru Thursday convention schedule, but he didn’t rule out further changes based on Issac’s storm track.

“There’s a weather event,” Schriefer said. “We all know it’s there …  We are continuing to plan for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, but at the same time we are obviously monitoring what’s going on with the weather.”  

Schriefer wouldn’t speculate on whether the storm could prompt further changes in the schedule, nor did he directly address questions over how the campaign’s message may change if Isaac ends up hammering the Gulf Coast.

“Until we know that and can predict the weather, we’re going to continue on with the schedule,” he said.

The convention’s headline speakers will all remain on the schedule thanks to shifting the start of each evening’s program an hour earlier. A combination of eliminating some parts of the program and shortening some speeches allowed organizers to keep the rest of the schedule relatively intact.     

But given that the storm’s current track has Isaac potentially making landfall in Louisiana on Wednesday—the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina—Stutts says the party must take extra care to remain sensitive to the cities and states that will be impacted by the storm.

“You can’t have a big pep rally on Wednesday,” he says.  

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean advises a wait-and-see approach. At this point, he says, all that's really known is that the storm will be hitting some part of the Gulf region, so it’s simply not practical to make alterations to the overall message just yet.    

"It would be premature to start scrapping major messaging scripts," says Bonjean. Still, he acknowledges, some tough decisions may lie ahead for convention organizers and the Romney campaign.    

For Republicans, it’s the second national convention in a row that’s been disrupted by a hurricane. Four years ago, the convention’s first day was also scrapped out of deference to those dealing with the impact of Hurricane Gustav.

Tampa may have been spared a direct hit from the storm, but for now, all eyes are still glued to Isaac’s track. 

Additional reporting by Shane D'Aprile

Follow @DaveNyczepir

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