Wet weather, storm threat can't douse GOP enthusiasm
Tampa • Utah's delegation to the Republican National Convention braced Sunday for a brush with Tropical Storm Isaac, which forced the cancellation of Monday's festivities, but said they are eager to see Mitt Romney accept the party's nomination for the presidency.
"It's certainly raining on our parade, but we're not going to let that dampen our spirit," said Gov. Gary Herbert. "I think Republicans are energized about the possibility of taking back the Oval Office."
Forecasters said the worst of the storm is expected to arrive early Monday morning. The Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the convention will take place, sits near the water, just 6 feet above sea level.
Enid Mickelsen, the Republican national committeewoman from Utah, said organizers were concerned that high-profile buses loaded with passengers traveling across long causeways would be vulnerable to high winds.
And the metal detectors the Secret Service has set up outside the convention center are housed under large tents which, if damaged or blown away, would leave expensive equipment, not to mention thousands of people waiting to get into the hall, exposed to the elements.
"The Utahns, we were thinking, 'Why didn't we get a beach-front hotel,' and now I think we were lucky not getting a beach-front hotel," she said. "I think the only thing that's going to happen to the Utah delegation is we're going to get wet if we go outside."
Still, she said she loaded up on bottled water, energy bars and crackers in case the storm turns out to be more severe than anticipated.
Utah delegates are planning to spend Monday morning packing up relief kits with bottled water, soap and other supplies that area LDS bishops will distribute to those who need help. The supplies were donated by Merit Medical.
"The main effect it will have on the delegates is we'll bond better because we'll be involved in good humanitarian efforts," said Republican National Committeeman Bruce Hough.
The latest forecasts show the storm moving farther west than originally expected and headed toward New Orleans.
"The locals don't seem to be too concerned about it," said Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz. "But I think they made the right decision in delaying."
Organizers have been busy reshuffling the speaking schedule, trying to pack in as many of the original speakers as possible. Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, who is running for Congress in Utah's 4th District, is still scheduled to address the convention shortly after 7 p.m. EST on Tuesday. Chaffetz's speech is now at 3 p.m. EST on Tuesday.
Many of the other scheduled events are going ahead as planned. Herbert is speaking Monday on best economic practices as part of "Newt U.", a series of policy discussions hosted by former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Chaffetz will be representing the Romney campaign in speeches to other visiting delegations.
The delegation had planned to visit a cattle ranch run by the LDS Church on Monday, but the threat of heavy rain impeding dirt roads forced cancellation of the trip.
Enthusiasm is high among the Utah delegates, who are eager to see Romney receive the nomination, because of his Utah ties, both through his management of the 2002 Winter Olympics and his shared LDS faith.
"There is a different feeling, I think certainly for the Utah people, because Mitt Romney is sort of a favorite son, an adopted son, but a favorite son, nonetheless," said Mickelsen. "I think there's a feeling that Utah is a little more tied-in this time than in conventions in the past."
On Sunday, many of the delegates attended a local LDS ward, where they met fellow Mormons from Vermont, Arizona and Hawaii. Romney's sons also attended with their families.
Romney's faith will be featured Thursday when he accepts the nomination on an evening focused on his life story. Several LDS speakers are slated to address the convention, and a fellow Mormon is expected to give the invocation.
James Bopp Jr., a national committeeman from Indiana who is a leading evangelical and a Romney supporter, said he thinks evangelical delegates will have no problem with the Mormon faith being in the spotlight.
"Evangelicals understand we are picking a president, not the head of their church," Bopp said.
"The convention will enjoy prayers from ministers of many different faiths, and evangelicals have no problem with that," he said. "Furthermore, many evangelicals think it is important that our leaders are people of faith and therefore appreciate that Romney is one. His faith-based activities demonstrate that and that appeals to all people of faith, including evangelicals."