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Republicans gavel in convention

TAMPA, Fla. — Republicans gaveled in their convention in Tampa on Monday and took their first swipe at President Obama by starting a debt clock meant to illustrate the administration's “fiscal recklessness." 

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called the GOP convention to order at 2 p.m. and recessed the event after unveiling the debt clock.

“This clock reminds every delegate and every American why we are here in Tampa — because America can and must do better,” Priebus said. “Every American’s share of the national debt has increased by approximately $16,000 during the current administration."

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Concerns about Tropical Storm Isaac forced organizers to push back the speakers scheduled for Monday and compress the convention into three days. Priebus did not say when the recess of the convention would end, fueling speculation that more events will be canceled as the storm strengthens into a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

Republican organizers sought to project an air of reassurance as rumors swirled that the party was considering pulling the plug on the entire convention.



"We are continuing to go ahead with our program of Tuesday, Wednesday [and] Thursday," said Mitt Romney aide Russ Schriefer at a press conference in Tampa. "However, we are going to make sure we monitor the storm as it proceeds and see what happens over the next few days."


The Romney aide refused to entertain questions about whether organizers were considering shifting the convention to Friday or scaling back events, even as reporters peppered him with questions about optics and logistics.

"I'm not going to answer the sort of hypothetical 'what if,' " Schriefer said.

Top Republicans reportedly expressed concern that the convention could turn into a net negative for Romney, with networks planning split-screen coverage between the event and the storm — and reminding viewers of former President George W. Bush's controversial handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Romney was evasive but upbeat when asked about the plans for his big event.

“Our thoughts are with the people that are in the storm’s path and hope that they’re spared any major destruction," Romney said, according to The Washington Post. He added that Republicans have "got a great convention ahead," and said his wife, Ann, was "going to do terrific."

Meanwhile, inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Republicans gave a preview of the sharp attacks that will be directed at President Obama once speakers take the podium.

“Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are the right leaders at the right time for America. They will turn this fiscal mess around, get people back to work and set our country on a strong foundation for generations to come,” Priebus said.

The debt clock mounted inside the convention hall started at zero, and will count up how much the federal debt increases during the four-day convention. The clock jumped to $2 million just a few minutes after starting.

There will be another debt clock in the convention room that shows the total amount of U.S. debt, which stands at $15.9 trillion. While the total debt can increase or decrease based on Treasury activity, there is a possibility that the debt level could break the $16 trillion mark this week.

After Priebus spoke, the giant video screen in the convention hall showed a video of Romney speaking interspersed with scenes from across America. 

“I’m Mitt Romney and I believe in America and I am running for the President of the United States,” Romney said in the video.

— This story was updated at 3:10 p.m.