Missouri Republicans left behind a turbulent Senate race for a
GOP national convention threatened by bad weather and unsettled by the furor
over Rep. Todd Akin's remarks on abortion and rape.
Organizers of the Republican National Convention hope to swing the election debate back to President Barack Obama's failure to revive a sluggish economy while presenting a likeable version of Mitt Romney, who has yet to warm the hearts of voters.
The four-day convention was to begin Monday, but because of severe weather from Tropical Storm Isaac, it will convene and then recess until Tuesday afternoon.
The theme of the convention is "A Better Future."
"Our purpose is to unify the party and deliver the message that what Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have to offer is a dramatic improvement over Obama and Biden," said state Auditor Tom Schweich, a Romney delegate from St. Louis.
The Republicans have plenty of challenges on the way to that goal, not the least of which is the storm, which could disrupt logistics for 50,000 people and drown out messages the GOP wants to get across. Four years ago, Republicans gathered in St. Paul, Minn., then scrubbed the convention's main events as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf Coast, 1,000 miles away.
Organizers also are wrestling with diminished interest, which showed when major networks said they would skip coverage on Monday night, when Ann Romney had been scheduled to speak. Organizers have since moved her speech to Tuesday to ensure network television coverage.
Republicans also are dealing with fallout from Akin's controversial comments last weekend, which continue to confound the GOP hierarchy. Akin's reference to "legitimate rape" and his assertion that the female body can shut down a pregnancy from rape ignited a national debate, knocking Republicans off their message in the run-up to Tampa. They struggled in vain to force Akin from the GOP ticket in hopes of unseating the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill. Those efforts continue.
Missouri Republicans might expect special attention in Tampa after being at the center of the firestorm. State Republican chairman David Cole, who arrived in Tampa Aug. 17, said GOP leaders from other states have been approaching him with kind words.
"They come up and ask, 'How are you holding up'?" Cole said. "I fully expect that the Missouri delegation is going to be greeted warmly and supported by all the other states."
Missouri is sending 52 official delegates, along with scores of alternate delegates, spouses and guests.
Akin, who is not attending the Republican gathering, by some accounts has singlehandedly drawn attention to a GOP platform approved in draft form last week that reaffirms the party's support of a constitutional ban on abortion even in cases of rape.
"If it hadn't been for Todd Akin, nobody would have paid any attention to what's in that platform," said Allan Lichtman, a political historian and author of "Keys to the White House."
"No. 1 for Republicans in Tampa, they have to get away from the Todd Akin story, which is a dead loser for them," said Lichtman, a professor at American University.
Organizers intend to steer the conversation in other directions. But Connie Eller, a delegate from St. Louis, is among those who want to hear more
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