Republican convention overshadowed by storm | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 27.08.2012
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Republican convention overshadowed by storm

Republicans wanted to spend four days presenting their presidential candidate Mitt Romney before making his nomination official. But a tropical storm has pushed back the program and led to media distractions.

The weather is interfering with Republican plans once again. Four years ago Hurricane Gustav was heading toward the Gulf Coast as conservative delegates met in Minneapolis to nominate John McCain as their presidential candidate. This time it's tropical storm Isaac. Though the convention's location of Tampa is not directly affected, the storm is bringing a constant downpour. As a precautionary measure, the convention's first day of programming was cancelled almost in its entirety, with only the official opening by party head Reince Priebus taking place. At his brief appearance, he postponed the event until Tuesday (28.08.2012).

Republicans will now have not four but three days to present their candidate for the nation's highest office to the American public. That, after all, is the primary purpose of the event, points out Peter Brown of Quinnipiac University Polling Institute: to show former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in a new light to voters, who may or may not like him.

Tropical Storm Isaac is seen in the Gulf of Mexico in this NOAA handout satellite image REUTERS/NASA/NOAA/GOES Project/Handout

Tropical storm Isaac has reached the US coast

"It means they're going to try to humanize him," Brown told journalists last week in New York. "They're going to talk about his business successes in the context of his life. They're going to try to talk about his policies and the fact that he has what they say is the plan to change things in the United States economically."

The debt clock is ticking

Visual effects will play a big role at the convention, and Priebus unveiled a national debt clock on Monday, which is set to be halted once the convention ends. It's intended to show how much new debt the US has acquired in just the four days of the event. In total, American debt levels are approaching $16 trillion (12.6 trillion euros). Romney has promised to reduce the country's debt by slimming down government and reducing taxes in a bid to stimulate the economy.

Economic policy will be the focus on Tuesday, as planned, said Romney campaign strategist Russ Schriefer in a telephone conference with journalists. The theme of the event on Tuesday will be "We built it!" - a reference to President Barack Obama's much-discussed campaign remark that businesses in the US are dependent for their livelihood on infrastructure they did not build.

"This gives us the opportunity to really frame one of the big philosophical differences between President Obama and Governor Romney," Schriefer said. "President Obama believes that government has a bigger role in job creation. Governor Romney sees that completely differently. He believes in entrepreneurship, the individual and smart people, who can succeed and create jobs and do well."

More compact program

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney and U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) wave after Romney introduced Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate during a campaign event at the battleship USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia´ REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are at the heart of the convention

As yet, the shortened timeframe has done the convention little damage. The program was tightened up, and most speakers on Monday were simply pushed back in the timetable. Romney's wife will now speak on Tuesday, along with other prominent figures like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Senator John McCain, several of Romney's Republican competitors during the primaries, like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, as well as the designated vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Romney himself will also take the stage.

Conspicuous by his absence is former US President George W. Bush. The Bush clan will be represented solely by the ex-president's brother, Jeb Bush, who is a former governor of Florida.

According to opinion polls, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will enter the convention at a slight disadvantage to Obama. The president, however, has the advantage that most Americans already know him and have formed their opinion of him, Peter Brown said. His task, Brown believes, is motivating voters to get out and support him on election day in November, whereas Romney is less known.

Politically engaged citizens are likely well-informed about Romney, but many others "have just begun to focus on this campaign," Brown noted.

Media distractions?

President Barack Obama speaks in the White House (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The advantage of prominence: Barack Obama

That means the tropical storm Isaac could become a problem for Romney, if it draws too much attention away from the nomination event. TV stations in particular are likely to focus on the approaching tropical storm, which is set to follow a similar course to the devastating hurricane Katrina seven years ago. The nation still recalls Katrina with horror - both at the catastrophic effects on New Orleans and its surroundings, as well as the inadequate response of local officials and the Bush government.

But Romney strategists can be glad that one discussion has cooled down. Recent controversial remarks about abortion made by US House representative Todd Akin are making fewer headlines. Last week they drew much criticism and discussion, threatening to overshadow the national convention.

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