RNC Deja Vu

As Hurricane Isaac barreled its way up the Gulf Coast, the GOP was forced to cancel the first day of its Tampa-based 2012 nominating convention because of the whims of Mother Nature.

The storm brought back unwanted memories of 2008’’s Hurricane Gustav, which forced the Republicans to postpone the start of the convention that nominated John McCain for president  — a gathering that was held more than 1,000 miles away in St. Paul.  In fact, Gustav caused outgoing President George W. Bush to cancel his planned convention speech and stay in Washington, D.C., to monitor the storm‘s progress.

Republican strategists believe that the storm will limit the media coverage that the GOP receives to launch Romney.   “We are going to make sure that we monitor the storm as it proceeds,” said Russ Schriefer, a Romney adviser who is helping to produce the convention.  “Obviously, our first concern is for the people who are in the path of the storm.  We have a wait-and-see attitude.”  Monday’s streamlined program consisted of RNC chair Reince Priebus’ ceremonial rap of the gavel to a virtually empty convention hall.  The television networks, which planned just one hour a night of prime-time coverage, divided their attention between the convention and the storm.  An editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, referred to the gathering as “the incredible shrinking convention.”

The convention was more or less back to normal scheduling on Tuesday,  with the highlights expected to be prime-time speeches by Ann Romney and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Television programming on Monday night mostly reverted to the networks’ usual schedules.  According to Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief,  while the network hasn’’t moved any staff covering the convention out of Tampa to cover the storm, it plans to contrast the weather story with the political one.  “”You’’ll see us mixing both stories together, because they’’re both connected, and you’’ll see us covering both,” Feist said.  “We certainly can walk and chew gum at the same time.””

Writing in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank notes that “the RNC’’s Priebus contributed to the irrelevance with his seven-minute show on Monday.  He took the stage to tepid applause from a sparse crowd. “‘Wow!’ he said.  ‘It is my privilege to proclaim the 2012 Republican National Convention in session and called to order”,’ Priebus said.”

On a more serious note, the slow-moving Isaac — which hit the Crescent City as a Category 1 hurricane with heavy rain and winds up to 100 mph — is also likely to test the federal response to a natural disaster in the region on the seventh anniversary of the tragic Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans.  Although Tampa was spared the worst of Isaac’s wrath, landfall in Louisiana could create painful split-screen images of the convention juxtaposed with the hurricane.