Tropical Storm Isaac has been a thorn in the side of Republicans for a week as it’s threatened to disrupt the party’s nominating convention in Tampa, which begins on Monday. But as the storm now takes aim at the US mainland, Isaac has managed to, at least for now, chase off one uninvited guest to the GOP party: Vice President Joe Biden.
Mr. Biden’s scheduled trip to Tampa on Monday, a bit of political gamesmanship and theater to tweak the Republicans on their big day, was scrapped late Friday as the National Weather Service began issuing hurricane warnings from the Keys to the Panhandle.
The decision came after local law enforcement in Tampa pointed out that the vice president’s presence in the city on the eve of the convention would strain already stretched police resources, especially given the storm’s approach.
"This change in schedule is being taken out of an abundance of caution to ensure that all local law enforcement and emergency management resources can stay focused on ensuring the safety of people who might be impacted by the storm, as well as those attending the activities in Tampa,” read a missive on the White House web page.
Republicans, meanwhile, are moving ahead, buoyed by news that the hurricane’s track seems to be moving westward instead of toward Tampa. Even as the storm threatens to grow into a potentially major hurricane over the next few days as it first crosses the Keys and then heads north by northwest into the Gulf, all indications are that the convention is a go.
At the same time, party planners did scurry late into the week to make sure that the basic task of the convention – officially nominating Romney and Ryan – would occur, even if it has to happen by tele- or video-conference in case convention-goers have to flee the coast.
The storm hit Haiti overnight Saturday, battering the disaster-prone island with heavy rains and high winds. That landfall weakened the storm, but forecasters say it’s likely to gather strength as it rejoins the warm waters of the Gulf. The likely midweek landfall now ranges from the Panhandle to New Orleans.
News that Biden had plans to hold events in Tampa on Monday roiled Republicans, some of whom called it “bad form.”
To be sure, in the good old days, crashing the other party’s big parade was considered ungentlemanly. But not today, according to Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist quoted by the Hill’s Mike Lillis. Given today’s polarized electorate and frenzied media environment, the idea that each party would let the other lay out its plank in peace has become a “quaint code of etiquette” relegated to the last century, Mr. Baker said.
To be sure, the Democrats’ arm-waving will go on. President Obama has several big media events scheduled for next week, and Michelle Obama is slotted to be on Letterman the night of Romney’s big speech. And Biden may still make it to Tampa, as the White House left his exact plans open and contingent on what the storm does over the next few days.
Last week, Biden made light of his trip when he spoke to national reporters tailing him in Michigan. "Any of you going to Florida?" Biden asked. "I'm the speaker at the convention. I'm going to be down there.”
Dispatching Biden to the heart of the opposition camp had the potential to reap rewards, but political observers said it was also a risky move. The voluble Biden was excoriated from myriad corners of the political spectrum – though supported by the Obama campaign – after he recently swayed into a Southern accent and told a largely black Virginia audience that, if elected, Romney and Paul were “gonna put ya’ll in chains.” Critics said it was an obvious allusion to slavery, but Biden’s aides said it referred to Romney’s plans for banking regulations.
Of course, Republicans have set up their own “war room” in Charlotte, N.C., ahead of the Democratic National Convention, but have not said whether they’ll dispatch someone as high profile as Biden to crash that party. Four years ago, Romney himself traveled to Denver and spoke at an event there – a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor – as the Democrats began nominating Obama and Biden for the presidency.