Literal clouds darkened the first night of the Republican National Convention, but for the remaining days of the convention, the cloud will be metaphorical.
The threat to Tampa has passed, and according to Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and other convention staff, outright cancellation is not seriously being discussed; they dispute media reports that it was ever a likely option. However, convention organizers understand that convention speakers may want to take a slightly different tone with a natural disaster unfolding 500 miles up the coast.
“Our first concern is people in the path of the storm. We are watching it very closely,” said Kyle Downey, the convention press secretary. “Today we are moving forward with the roll call and nominating processes. However, we will continue to watch the situation very carefully and will change our program plans if needed. As soon as we make any decisions, we will alert delegates, alternates, and the media.”
Convention organizers and Gulf Coast governors are in regular contact. “First of all, we pray for all of those people in those states — coming from a hurricane state, I know what it’s like,” says Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who will address the convention tonight. “But I spoke yesterday to Governor [Bobby] Jindal [of Louisiana], to Governor [Robert] Bentley [of Alabama], to Governor [Phil] Bryant [of Mississippi], and to Governor [Rick] Scott [of Florida], and they said, ‘We are fine. Our states are ready. We are prepared, and we want to see a strong convention in Tampa. We want everybody to pay attention to the message of Governor Romney, we want everybody to pay attention to the speeches. We will be okay.’”
Asked if the convention should change in tone if the hurricane is hitting during the proceedings, Haley responded, “Naturally, we’ll continue to pray for those states, and we’ll continue to watch them carefully, but I know from talking to these governors that they’re great governors, representing what Republican governors do: They’re staying home with their people. They’re taking care of their states, and they’re very comfortable with what the plans are and how they’re going to do it.”
Certain commentators suggested that the storm could be a major headache for Republicans. On Monday morning, NBC News’ Chuck Todd suggested, “When you think as this storm moves to and closer to Louisiana, the specter, the sort of shadow of Bush and Katrina does hang over this convention. It is something organizers are concerned about. And don’t be surprised if Tuesday gets changed again.”
But the storm is a political liability for President Obama, as the current head of the executive branch, as well. “This storm isn’t scheduled to make landfall until later today, but at my direction FEMA has been on the ground for over a week working with state and local officials in areas that could be affected — from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to Florida, and more recently, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi,” Obama said in a prepared statement today. “We’re dealing with a big storm and there could be significant flooding and other damage across a large area. Now is not the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously.”
There are already some complaints about how the federal government is responding to state requests. On Monday evening, after what Jindal characterized as a “very limited federal disaster declaration by the President of the United States that only granted a portion of the state’s request,” the governor sent a letter requesting a full disaster declaration for Louisiana.
Jindal’s letter declared:
The State’s expenditures for emergency protective measures are already approximately $8,000,000 and exceed the State of Louisiana’s threshold when making a request for a major disaster declaration. Given the extraordinary developments of this storm and its approaching impact on the State of Louisiana, I ask that you exercise your discretion to approve the State’s pending request for all emergency protective measures. Further, I ask that you consider a cost-share adjustment to eliminate the State’s non-federal share of the costs for this event. When threatened with extraordinary disasters, states depend upon the availability of the full spectrum of assistance available. . . . Finally, a core responsibility of the federal government is to protect the lives and property of its citizens when threatened. This disaster declaration will help ensure that we best protect life and property in our state.
This morning, Obama announced he had expanded the disaster declaration to include all of Louisiana.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.