RNC chairman: Tampa convention will go ‘full steam ahead on Tuesday’

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Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus, who announced Saturday night that the GOP would cancel Monday’s convention events due to Tropical Storm Isaac, said he wasn’t worried that the fallout from the storm might diminish the party’s message.

“We’re 100 percent full steam ahead on Tuesday,” Priebus told Candy Crowley on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.

“We have to tell the Mitt Romney story here. People are just getting to know Mitt Romney,” said Priebus. “Obama has been president for four years, and I think it’s incumbent on us to do two things. 


“One, we still have to prosecute the president as to whether he fulfilled the mission he laid out in 2008, and he didn’t,” he continued. “But the second piece is telling the story about a man who is decent and honorable, gave away his father’s inheritance, started something from nothing and created a great business, saved the Olympics, governed in a difficult state as a Republican and was very successful.”

Priebus said he believed any speaker who got bumped on Monday, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), would be fit into Tuesday or Wednesday’s schedule, with the acknowledgement that some of the speeches would have to be shortened.

Priebus said it didn’t look like Isaac would make a direct hit on Tampa, but that uncertainty over the storm’s path and strength was the motivating factor for scratching the first day of the Republican Party’s most important election-year event.

“The reason why we ultimately ended up making this decision was for the safety of our delegates and guests,” he said. “We couldn’t really be assured of total safety over all the bridges over open water with sustained winds. The Secret Service took tents outside down and understandably so, but what that meant was fewer entrances into the building and people standing outside for a long time in the driving rain and wind.”

“If you get the arena here behind us full and things end up deteriorating on Monday and you can’t get people back, that’s a problem,” Priebus added. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Priebus told reporters on Saturday 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.”

On Fox News Sunday, Priebus declined to blame former RNC Chairman Michael Steele for scheduling the convention during hurricane season in Florida.

“To his defense we’ve had conventions in Miami, New Orleans, Houston,” Priebus said. “I mean Charlotte’s in the path, New York could be in the hurricane path. This is a great place to be, we’re excited to be in Tampa.”

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 Saturday evening, 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.” 

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.