Isaac forces RNC to delay start of Tampa convention to Tuesday

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus announced Saturday that the GOP would cancel Monday’s convention events due to Tropical Storm Isaac.

Priebus said that the convention would convene on Monday August 27th and immediately recess until Tuesday afternoon on August 28th.

“Our first priority is ensuring the safety of delegates, alternates, guests, members of the media attending the Republican National Convention, and citizens of the Tampa Bay area,” said Priebus in a written statement. 

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“The Republican National Convention will take place and officially nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and the Party has other necessary business it must address,” he added. “We also are remaining in constant contact with state and federal officials and may make additional schedule alterations as needed.”

Immediately following Priebus's announcement, the White House said Vice President Joe Biden had postponed his entire trip to Florida scheduled next week. 

On Friday the White House cancelled Biden's swing through Tampa on Monday. He had been expected to attend campaign stops in Orlando and St. Augustine on Tuesday.

"This change in schedule is being taken to ensure that all law enforcement and emergency management resources across the state can continue their focus on ensuring the safety of those who might be impacted by the storm," his office said in a statement.

Isaac is expected to reach hurricane force strength before passing the Florida Keys early Sunday morning. The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning for the Keys and portions of Florida’s west coast on Saturday.

The threat from the storm forced the RNC to make the abrupt change to their convention schedule, but both Priebus and Romney campaign officials insisted that they would be able to organize a successful convention.

In a conference call with reporters Saturday afternoon, Russ Schriefer, a Romney senior strategist, said the campaign did not view the delay as a setback.

“We will absolutely be able to get our message out,” he said on the call. “We think we can absolutely do it in three [days], and we look forward to telling the story.”

Bill Harris, the Republican National Convention CEO said that the decision came “out of an abundance of caution.” 

“We want to make sure everybody who attends the convention is safe and we want to make sure everyone who lives in Florida is not necessarily hindered,” said Harris, who was also on the call.

He added that convention organizers were looking “forward to a great start on Tuesday. We can't think of any reason operationally why that wouldn't happen.”

Priebus told reporters that the decision to cancel Monday’s events was "unanimous” and was taken among “members of the RNC, Romney staff, and officials who are conducting the convention."

“We are going to begin issuing revised convention programing as early as Sunday,” he said.

The decision leaves convention organizers with many logistical issues, including rescheduling speakers as well as insuring the safety of all attendees. 

Former Govs. Jeb Bush (Fla.), Mike Huckabee (Ark.) as well as current Govs. Nikki Haley (S.C.), Bob McDonnell (Va.) and Florida’s Rick Scott were among those scheduled to speak on Monday.

Scott on Saturday declared a state of emergency, a step that will help federal and state officials coordinate their response.

He also cancelled plans to speak at the convention and said he would remain in Tallahassee to organize emergency relief efforts. 

"As Governor of this great state, I am responsible for all 19 million residents and visitors and it is my duty to make sure we can quickly respond to the regions affected," Scott said, in a statement. "While Tampa Bay has gotten a lot of attention due to the upcoming convention, I will unilaterally focus on the safety of every resident and community throughout the state.”

On Sunday, Priebus said only that organizers were in close contact with authorities and were “working around-the-clock to ensure the delegations housed in storm-impacted areas have alternative housing if needed.”

“We will also provide guidance to those delegates and alternate delegates who may encounter travel difficulties due to the storm,” he added.

RNC spokesman Sean Spicer this week said Republicans had contingency plans in place to ensure the safety of attendees. He did not give details on those plans, but said they would also allow the convention’s business of nominating Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate for president to go forward.

Isaac passed over Haiti on Saturday battering the nation which is still recovering from 2010's devastating earthquake. It is expected to gain strength as it heads towards the Gulf and Florida.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Saturday urged local residents to be prepared.

"FEMA and its federal partners remain in close coordination with states and tribal governments across the Southeast as Tropical Storm Isaac continues to move out of the Caribbean," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a statement. 

This is the second consecutive GOP convention to be affected by a hurricane. Four years ago, Republicans canceled some events on the first day of their national convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul when Hurricane Gustav struck the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.

This story was last updated at 8:02 p.m.

Justin Sink contributed.

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