Conventioneering with Isaac—A Chance Blown?
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Leaving aside the substantive matters which really should be the focus in Tampa and introducing their candidate to millions, in one fell swoop, the Republicans face a challenge now which is totally out of their hands; Mother Nature. This was moment one (the second will be the first debate) for Mitt Romney to score. His acceptance speech and the send-off which he receives are key for the post convention polling bounce and the eight week campaign ahead.
So what does he face instead? The four days are collapsed into three, no real loss there since the extra time was really for the party faithful and not the national candidates. While they may be important to introduce faces and names to the country as the GOP seeks to maintain control of the House and try to gain control of the Senate in November, it does not matter very much to most of the country.
The media however, both its coverage inside and more important outside the convention will be pivotal. Hurricane Isaac is at least as important a news story as a political convention. The media’s ability to present pictures of a hurricane are much more gripping than several thousand delegates standing and screaming their heads off. The situation outside the convention building, in the Gulf, and wherever the storm will track are much more compelling than endless pictures of the Romneys and the Ryans with their hands raised.
Water, like fire, is the most mesmerizing natural phenomenon for newscasters and for audiences. Interviews with delegates as well will be affected by the hurricane as they discuss the damage in Tampa, the logistical problems, the flooding, and their worried families back home. At the same time the delegates from Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and anywhere else in Isaac’s path will garner far more attention than their votes or their politicians or the campaign.
Coming as it does precisely on the days when Hurricane Katrina struck seven years ago, makes the entire episode eerily reminiscent of 2005. Even Haley Barbour who was Governor of Mississippi during Katrina and was formerly head of the Republican National Committee, admitted that everyone in Tampa has one eye on the hurricane. (As the New York Times photo attached to this hyperlink shows, on the television screen above the schedule board, the attention of the delegates is being directed to the storm.) Depending on how dangerous and damaging the storm will be by Thursday, if the networks in prime time have a small box without sound showing the storm while speeches are droning on, the convention will be very distracted.
In addition, if it necessitates a visit from the President during the days of the convention to survey the humanitarian needs and damage, that footage will totally undermine the convention. Ironically, were it to continue into next week or have even occurred during the Democratic convention a side trip by the President or even some dramatic presidential activity during the convention would only have enhanced Obama’s image to appear presidential. While presumably on Friday, Romney will immediately tour the areas hit by the hurricane as well, he cannot carry it off as the candidate like any sitting president can.