Tampa, Fla. — As they socialized Monday on a truncated first day of the Republican National Convention, Connecticut’s delegates kept their eyes on a strengthening Tropical Storm Isaac, which drenched Tampa as it brushed by this Gulf Coast city on a track towards the Louisiana coast.
Projected to reach hurricane strength before landfall, Isaac led Republicans to scrap most of their first day’s schedule. Delegates were deliberately subdued, keeping an eye on weather reports that tracked the storm’s march towards a New Orleans still struggling to recover seven years after Hurricane Katrina.
“Republicans care. They are just as compassionate as anybody else,” said state Sen. Scott Frantz of Greenwich, a leader of the delegation.
The convention is scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon in earnest, but Isaac continues to disrupt Republican National Committee plans, just as Hurricane Gustav got the GOP convention off to an uncertain start four years ago in St. Paul, Minn., when an unlikley Connecticut politician basked in the spotlight.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent who is retiring this year, delivered a prime-time address in St. Paul, praising Republican John McCain, who considered him as a running mate, and questioning the qualifications of Democrat Barack Obama, whom he briefly mentored after Obama entered the Senate.
This year, there are contingencies to cancel more of the GOP convention, or move activities to later in the week and end the convention on Friday, instead of Thursday evening.
“Our first concern is people in the path of the storm,” said Russ Schriefer, an advisor to the GOP’s soon-to-be nominee, Mitt Romney. “We have a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude with what happens in the storm.”
The theme of the first day was “We Can Do Better.” Disaffected supporters of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Fla., managed to briefly drape a Ron Paul banner over a sign in the convention hall bearing that slogan so it read “Ron Paul Can Do Better” in the convention hall.
And that’s not the only trouble GOP officials face this week. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protesters are in town, trying to disrupt the proceedings. But most were held a bay by heavy security around a fortified perimeter around the convention hall.
With no official functions to, attend, Connecticut’s delegation of 28 delegates, 25 alternates and about 60 guests spent the day exploring the Tampa area and even hitting the beach when the sun peeked through the clouds briefly.
Delegate Mark Schenkman took advantage of the day off to visit the Salvador Dali museum.
“It was fascinating,” he said.
But he and other delegates said they are eager to get down to the business of formally nominating Romney and presenting a roster of speakers, beginning Tuesday with a keynote address from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who will try to make the case for Romney over Obama.
His sometimes sparring partner, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, will get a less prestigious slot at the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte, N.C., speaking briefly some time after 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Barring another schedule change, there will be more than two dozen speeches Tuesday, including one from Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife, and the roll call of the states will begin. A loser to McCain in 2008, despite his status as a governor of a neighboring state, Romney was convincingly endorsed this year by Connecticut Republicans in their primary.
For Rene and Bob Westervelt of Hamden, who are guests of the delegation, attending their first convention was a thrill.
“We want to do anything to help,” Rene Westervelt said.
The Connecticut delegation capped the first day of the convention with an “Italian Night” party at their hotel, the Bilmar Beach Resort.