GOP convention kicks off, briefly, as officials wait out storm

The opening of the Republican National Convention lasted but a few seconds Monday, as party chairman Reince Priebus gaveled in the ceremonies to a small roar of applause from the crowd of several dozen delegates. He then promptly declared the session in recess, ending the day's festivities.

It was the closest the Republican Party has come yet to getting its convention underway, as Tropical Storm Isaac delays the affair and a number of officials steer clear of the convention to tend to their home states.

Priebus did use the occasion to showcase two "debt clocks," one showing the total national debt and the other showing the debt since the start of the convention. That latter number instantly ran into the six-figure range after Priebus struck the gavel.

Weather permitting, bona-fide convention festivities will start Tuesday afternoon, with a full line-up of top-shelf speakers on the docket. But the fleeting kickoff Monday was just the latest sign of how the storm, as it heads toward the Gulf Coast roughly timed with the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, threatens to overshadow the party's efforts to rally the base around Mitt Romney.

Four Gulf Coast governors -- from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and the host state of Florida -- already are steering clear of the convention to tend to emergency response in their states. The possibility of a Category 2 hurricane hitting the coast late Tuesday means that even as the convention makes its belated start that day, media coverage and public officials' attention will remain fixed on the storm.

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As of Monday, though, officials were pressing forward with their revised plans to gavel in Monday afternoon, then immediately go into recess, and then bring everything into gear by Tuesday afternoon.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, in an interview Monday morning with Fox News, stressed that hurricane-prone Florida is ready for the storm and played down any worries.

"We train for this every day all year long," he said. "And we're prepared for it."

Republican officials, of course, will have to fight that much harder to make their now three-day event a galvanizing affair that sparks a new energy around their presidential nominee -- without appearing insensitive toward what could be a damaging lashing from Isaac along the Gulf Coast.

"This is a huge opportunity to capture the attention of the American public and keep them focused for several nights," said Juleanna Glover, a Republican strategist and co-founder of the Washington-based Ashcroft Group.

Weather aside, Glover suggested the challenge for the Romney team will be to refrain from trying to re-invent the candidate or going over the top, instead generating enthusiasm through trying to reinforce that Romney is a leader, a churchgoer and a family man.

Their biggest challenge may well be in convincing Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and private-equity manager who through the entire election cycle has argued his mission is to fix the economy, not win a popularity contest.

Romney's favorability rating is now at 46 percent, according to an averaging of polls by the Real Clear Politics website. It was as low as 21 percent according to a CBS-New York Times poll in January and as high as 50 percent according to a CNN-Opinion Research poll this month.

While Glover suggests a plan that focuses on reinforcing Romney's image, bolstered by wife Ann's scheduled speech and the presence of their children, others have suggested the presumptive GOP nominee go further.

"He needs to sell himself, (Romney) the man, his vision for the country," Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the Super PAC Crossroads GPS, told Fox News on Saturday.

Party luminaries are still on tap to deliver major addresses from Tuesday to Thursday, despite the cancellation of the first day.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expected to deliver his keynote address Tuesday night -- which could give the convention the energy it needs to compete for attention with the storm.

From there, Paul Ryan will speak as the Republican vice presidential nominee, followed by Romney's nomination acceptance speech late Thursday.