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CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Isaac Haze

Workers prepare for the start of the 2012 Republican National Convention by trashing a sign that spells "Change" because it was too small. It is being replaced with one that has bigger letters. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)
Workers prepare for the start of the 2012 Republican National Convention by trashing a sign that spells "Change" because it was too small. It is being replaced with one that has bigger letters. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

The CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing is being published from the GOP Convention in Tampa, Fla., this week. For more information on signing up to receive this free email, click here.

THE PODIUM: It’s cordoned off until tomorrow afternoon, when the Republican National Convention will be called to order — just for a few minutes, after which it will be recessed until sometime Tuesday, after Tropical Storm (probably Hurricane, by then) Isaac has done whatever damage it’s going to do to the city. Planners say that at 5:45 today they’ll unveil their alternative three-days-instead-of-four schedule.

THE TICKET: “It really is sad, isn’t it, with all the issues that America faces for the Obama campaign to continue to stoop to such a low level,” Romney told Fox when asked about efforts to link him to Todd Aiken’s statements about abortion and rape. In the taped interview, he also said the controversy created by the Missouri Senate candidate “hurts our party and I think is damaging to women.”
After church, the nominee-in-waiting went back to his lakeside compound in New Hampshire, receiving updates on the rescheduling of the convention while refining and practicing his acceptance speech — which is still a lock to happen Thursday night in the final hour of prime time. (Ann Romney is still planning to give her own speech sometime earlier in the week, and from now on when she travels without her husband she’ll have her own Secret Service detail.) Ryan is also off camera for the day; he’s back home in Janesville, Wis., working on his own acceptance speech — still probably the marquee event for Wednesday night.

THE OTHER TICKET: Obama has come back from his weekend at Camp David, but he stayed longer than planned (and saw his golf plans scuttled) because of bad weather in and around Washington, too. Biden, on Cape Cod for a fundraiser last night, spoke to about 300 people at the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown this morning — declaring the coming election as between the “starkest contrasted candidates in recent memory.”

SOME SHRINKAGE MAY OCCUR: The cancellation of the Republicans’ opening day may well herald the end of a storied tradition in modern American politics — the four-day presidential nominating convention.

If three consecutive exceptions create the new normal, then a change in the status quo is at hand. Four years ago, the last GOP convention was shortened by a day — the potential destruction of Hurricane Gustav providing a convenient excuse, truth be told, for calling off a Monday session at which Bush (then at a dismal 27 percent approval) was to be the featured prime time speaker that McCain surely didn’t want but couldn’t otherwise snub. And next week, poor fundraising and the celebration of the Democrats’ sacred holiday, Labor Day, had long ago prompted the cancellation of any formal Monday proceedings in Charlotte.  So tomorrow’s rain-soaked cone of silence at the St. Pete Times Forum will mean three three-day conventions in a row.

And — inside the hockey-arena-turned-political-theater, down the tented (at least until the wind kicks up) walkway at the convention center press complex, and out in the delegation hotels and the top-dollar-donor suites all over the Tampa Bay region — there’s grudging agreement that the old way of doing business has just about run its course. The last truly contested conventions were in 1976 for the Republicans (Ford vs. Reagan) and 1980 for the Democrats (Carter vs. Kennedy), so for more than three decades now they have been mainly venues for weeklong infomercials touting the virtues of the parties and their tickets — and, off camera, nonstop trade shows and schmoozefests for the intertwined worlds of elected officials, political operatives, media players, lobbying honchos and fundraising forces. The actual formality of nominating the ticket has become almost an afterthought — and under party rules can actually be accomplished in ways other than a roll call of all the state delegations gathered in one room, as GOP officials pointed out when yesterday it appeared Isaac might have the capacity to wipe out the whole week.

Absent internal party warfare or scandal or other unavoidable news, there’s no reason to expect mainstream media attention for four long days of well-vetted, totally coordinated speechifying; niche players and social media are already proving they can do the trick. (The broadcast networks weren’t going to be giving airtime to tomorrow’s GOP session even if it had happened and have curbed their coverage to an hour a night after that.) And the trade show aspect (which kicked into high gear yesterday) is sure to sprawl over a week no matter how much the formalities are curtailed.

THE 2016 EFFECT: The larger question, for both parties, is whether to push their conventions into earlier in the summer. The answer is very likely to be “yes” — and not just for the reason being highlighted at the moment, which is the prospect for better (or at least hurricane-free) weather if the gatherings are going to be in swing-state Florida or convention-mecca New Orleans ever again. Beyond that, if one of the reasons for the convention is to give the candidates their mythical post-convention “bounce,” the odds of that happening are better if the nominations happen 15 or 16 weeks before the election rather than this year’s 9 or 10 weeks. And there is also big money on the table. The candidates can spend the millions they’ve raised for the general election only after their nominations are formally in hand; there’s almost no reason for them to wait until Election Day is less than two months away to get started.

This time, as in 2008, the two conventions are bracketing Labor Day in part because the Olympics sucked up so much of the national attention earlier in the summer, but before that the routine was for the challenging party to convene in July and the incumbent party in August — a timetable that does the candidate who has to go first a world of hurt. (Ask John Kerry.) Next time, look for back-to-back conventions in the final two weeks of July.

WAIT ’TIL TOMORROW: The storm is not at all in evidence in downtown Tampa this afternoon, where it’s muggy and in the 80s, cloudy and only slightly breezy. There’s only the slightest ripple on the bay water right outside the convention hall. But the outer bands of Isaac’s rains are expected soon, and the downpour and high winds are coming by late tonight and are expected to last through tomorrow. (The current forecast is for the storm to be a Category 1 hurricane all day Monday, when it will swoop up the Gulf of Mexico — strengthening only after it’s well north of the convention. Most of the computer models have the eye of the storm drifting steadily farther westward than originally expected.) The major event for the day — a party for more than 20,000 delegates, journalists and other convention-goers inside Tropicana Field, the Gulf-side domed home of the Tampa Bay Rays across the bay in St. Petersburg — is going on as scheduled starting at 6. But the No. 2 event on many to-do lists, a downtown outdoor concert, lost its headline act when Lynyrd Skynyrd pulled out this afternoon.

All four of the states in the likeliest path of the storm have Republican governors, and all of them have put their convention-attending plans on hold today. Florida’s Rick Scott is giving up the prominent turn at the podium that he’d lobbied so hard for. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal — fresh off the short list for vice president — says he won’t show up for his speech unless he’s confident his constituents are out of harm’s way. Alabama’s Robert Bentley and Mississippi’s Phil Bryant are also staying away for now. Rick Perry of Texas — which may yet become the storm’s target if its westward shift continues — still plans to be in town by Tuesday, when he and fellow GOP nomination aspirant Michele Bachmann are supposed to speak at a rally for abortion opponents at the Florida Aquarium. (The only former Romney rival still more or less officially in the running for the nomination, Ron Paul, has been the focus of not one but two gatherings of libertarians and tea party activists today — and is on course to address one of them within the hour. But he won’t be speaking at the convention proper because he declined to commit to the full-throated endorsement the Romney camp demanded.)

SAFETY DANCE: The day’s No. 1 newsmaker has been RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (and not because he’s seen as Paul Ryan’s likeliest successor in the House if the national election turns out the way he wants). “The reason we ultimately came up with this decision is the safety of the delegates and the guests,” he said on CNN, and he repeated his rationale for the convention postponement on a sweep of almost all the Sunday TV talk shows. “We could not be assured of the total safety of the buses traveling over long bridges, over water with sustained winds. If you get the arena behind us here full and things end up deteriorating on Monday, and you can’t get people back, that is a problem.” (Beyond that, Priebus made it totally clear that he has not given up on efforts to get Todd Aikin out of the Missouri Senate race — declaring that the party stands a very good shot at coming up short of its quest to take over that half of Congress unless he does so.)

SOCIAL SECURITY SURVEY: With all the attention the Ryan selection has put on Republican plans for reining in the cost of Medicare, very little effort has been paid so far to the even-bigger — and by far the biggest — federal entitlement program. But an Associated Press-GfK poll out today suggests that the public is more open to significant and historically unpopular ideas for changing the retirement income benefit than in the health care program for the old. When asked which choice they would make to put Social Security on a firmer long-term footing, 53 percent said they would rather raise taxes than cut benefits for future generations; just 36 percent said they would cut benefits instead. And the results were remarkably similarly lopsided when respondents were asked if they would choose raising the retirement age or cutting monthly payments for future beneficiaries: 53 percent would choose working longer and 35 percent would cut the size of the check — which now averages $1,236 a month for more than 56 million people.

The poll revealed a statistical tie between Obama (47 percent) and Romney (44 percent) on which potential president would be trusted more with Social Security during the next four years. The incumbent has not offered any detailed plan for changing the system while in office, but has said he would oppose cutting benefits even for future generations and has no interest in allowing workers to divert some of their Social Security taxes into personal investment accounts — a proposal for which Ryan was the principal House advocate in the middle of the last decade. Romney has not fully embraced that idea but has spoken favorably about raising the retirement age — which is essentially unchanged from when the program was created in the New Deal, a time when life expectancy was about 15 years shorter than what it is now. Retirees now get full benefits at 66, but the age is going up a year for people born in the 1960s. The poll found only one in five people younger than 35 are expecting Social Security will provide income throughout their retirement — but 55 percent of people older than 65 do.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “President Obama has a strong record of doing what is best for America and Florida, and he built it by spending more time worrying about what his decisions would mean for the people than for his political fortunes. That’s what makes him the right leader for our times,” Charlie Christ said in an op-ed endorsement in today’s Tampa Bay Times. The Republican former governor — who saw his 2010 bid for the Senate swamped by Marco Rubio after he greeted the president with an embrace, went on to excoriate the GOP without quite formally quitting the party. “As Republicans gather in Tampa to nominate Mitt Romney, Americans can expect to hear tales of how President Obama has failed to work with their party or turn the economy around. But an element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Democratic Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina (67); yesterday, the newest member of the House, Arizona Democrat Ron Barber (also 67) – sworn in 10 weeks ago to succeed his former boss, Gabby Giffords.

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More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

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