Hurricane Isaac will roll into New Orleans as a category 1 storm late Tuesday or early Wednesday, testing not only the city’s new floodgates, but also the foundations of the GOP convention across the Gulf in Tampa.
The storm will bring heavy rainfall and a storm surge to the same region, along the same path that Hurricane Katrina hit seven years ago. Engineers have been working on modernized flood control systems to avert the Katrina disaster, which Isaac will likely test.
In Tampa, the shadow of Isaac and the ghost of Katrina should change much of the discourse from the podium.
As the keynote speaker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is expected to attack President Barack Obama, following what should be a more tempered effort from Ann Romney.
But the legacy of Katrina, which was a big issue in the 2008 presidential election, could muzzle even the unpredictable Christie.
The Bush administration’s handling of the Hurricane Katrina crisis still reverberates with some voters, and the Republican convention planners are now stuck finding a balance between attacking Obama and showing appropriate concern and leadership about Isaac.
The GOP already showed restraint by cancelling Monday’s convention events in Tampa and its Gulf region leaders have returned home to deal with Isaac.
But much of the national coverage of the convention is made-for-television theater, and it is expected some cable TV networks will show split-screen coverage of Isaac approaching landfall as the GOP speakers are addressing the convention.
Also, two TV anchors—Anderson Cooper and Shepard Smith—have left Tampa to head out to cover Isaac.
For now, all the scheduled convention events in Tampa will proceed without major changes. Christie, Paul Ryan, and Mitt Romney are the featured speakers for the next three nights, and they are expected to hammer away at Obama while offering their visions about a Romney administration.
As for President Obama, he is already sending messages to the Gulf region about Isaac and he will have a national platform to act presidential on while the GOP convention is in progress.
One unnamed Republican told Politico that the Romney team will need to find a balance.
“The one thing [the Romney campaign] cannot do is err on the side of ignoring the storm, so they will overreact the other way,” the source said. “But they are in a vise.”
Another issue will rival political voices controlling the message about Isaac. The governors of Louisiana (Bobby Jindal), Mississippi (Phil Bryant), and Alabama (Robert Bentley) are Republicans.
Jindal is already criticizing the Obama administration for the amount of emergency spending it will send to his state to cover storm preparations.
As for President Obama, the White House said he will be campaigning in Iowa and Colorado, but his schedule was subject to change.
It wouldn’t be a shock to see the president in the landfall area for Isaac after the storm leaves, and before he heads to Charlotte, for the Democratic convention next week.
Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.
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