TAMPA — The show will go on, but how loud will the party get?
Republican National Convention planners insisted Sunday they would be able to fit most scheduled events into an abbreviated three-day schedule but acknowledged Tropical Storm Isaac could affect the tone of the program and might force it to extend to Friday.
"We are continuing to plan with Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday," Russ Schriefer, a Mitt Romney strategist, said in a conference call after a long day of uncertainty. "But at the same time, we're obviously monitoring what is going on with the weather. Our concern has to be with the people who are in the path of the storm."
Isaac tracked west, away from Tampa, but the problem only shifted for convention planners, from a safety concern to one of perception. There was the growing possibility the storm could barrel into the Gulf of Mexico toward New Orleans, still rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It also threatened the Florida Panhandle.
Republicans are concerned about the appearance of holding what amounts to a big and lavish party in the face of a storm. At least, the storm could force a less celebratory mood in the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Planners were quietly considering a Friday session but remained hopeful they would not have to breach that possibility, which would cause massive headaches for convention delegates and guests, many of whom give up their hotel rooms and plan to fly home Friday, the start of the Labor Day weekend.
"It's a hypothetical question and I really don't want to kind of answer it in that way," Schriefer said. "We plan on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday."
On Monday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will gavel the session to order, as first planned, but the convention will break after a few minutes. A national debt clock will be unveiled in the Tampa Bay Times Forum and it will begin counting debt Monday until the conclusion of the convention — a prop to reinforce a message about out-of-control spending.
Schriefer said most of the Monday speakers were absorbed into the next three days. Some will have shorter times at the podium. There were some casualties, too, Florida Gov. Rick Scott among them. Scott had already said he would not attend the convention on Tuesday so he could monitor the storm.
Prime-time speaking slots — 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. — were unchanged. Ann Romney will talk about her husband on Tuesday; Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, will speak Wednesday. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is to introduce Romney on Thursday, a speech he previewed in an interview Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation.
"This man is a personal role model to young men — younger men like me, as a father, as a husband," Rubio said. "You look how successful his family has been. Everywhere that he has ever gone, whether in his church or his community, he has made it better using his talents and his time."
Tampa was always a risk given the hurricane season but advocates for bringing the convention here have faced fresh doubt from the news media and some delegates.
"We're happy we picked Tampa," Priebus said in an interview on the convention floor Sunday afternoon. "Florida is an important state for us, so there's a lot of benefit to us being here."
Alec Poitevint, who is managing the event, echoed that sentiment. "We made the right decision to bring (the convention) to Tampa and we made the right decision to cancel (the first day)" he said.
Sunday was a comfortable day in Tampa, overcast and breezy, and many outside events went on. In the evening, winds kicked up.
But there were no shortage of TV monitors throughout the nearby Tampa Convention Center, where thousands of journalists will work, tuned to CNN, which over and over showed the storm track, an ominous blob of red, yellow, green and blue rolling past Florida and up the Gulf of Mexico.
Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.