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Thursday, August 23, 2012 - Page updated at 08:00 p.m.

Political storms, and one tropical one, dog GOP as convention nears

The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney wanted to preside over a made-for-TV Republican national convention showcasing his economic credentials and GOP unity. Instead, he's heading to Tampa with the national debate focused on rape and abortion and with the divisions within his party — and with running mate Paul Ryan — on full display.

Even the weather is threatening to spoil Romney's party. As Wednesday's rain pounded the arena and hotel complex where the convention is scheduled for next week, Tropical Storm Isaac churned toward Florida.

Saul Anuzis, a Republican National Committee (RNC) member from Michigan and a top Romney backer, said "it could cause havoc; it could be a chaotic situation from a transportation and security standpoint."

The ticket found itself still overshadowed by the uproar over Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's refusal to drop out of his Senate race after causing a stir by saying that women's bodies have ways of preventing pregnancies in cases of "legitimate rape."

He has apologized repeatedly and has said he misspoke, but he also has bucked calls from top Republicans — including Romney and Ryan — to abandon his bid.

Akin's comments have caused a furor in the Republican Party just as it's trying to narrow the advantage Obama and the Democrats have among women voters.

The debate also has highlighted fissures within the Republican Party over when abortion should be legal. Romney does not oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest or if it will save a mother's life; Ryan opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest, but not when the life of the mother is at risk.

Obama mocked Akin's words during a fundraiser in New York City, telling supporters Wednesday night that Akin, though a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, "somehow missed science class."

Obama added: "It's representative of the desire to go backward instead of forward and fight fights that we thought were settled 20 or 30 years ago."

At the same time, Democrats were making plans to try to steal some of the limelight from Romney next week.

Obama has arranged to campaign in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia. Vice President Joseph Biden is planning to campaign in Florida — including in Tampa — early next week, and Michelle Obama is to appear on David Letterman's show Aug. 29, the third day of the GOP convention.

Also out of Romney's control: Tropical Storm Isaac is threatening to reach the Tampa area just as thousands of people are pouring into Tampa.

Convention officials say contingency plans are in place should the storm stay on its course for Tampa. They are monitoring the storm but not yet contacting delegates about alternate plans.

When a tropical storm raked the Tampa Bay area in June, thousands of homes and businesses lost power, tornadoes spun off and streets and bridges were closed; the storm was blamed for seven deaths statewide.

The city was hit by strong rainstorms from Monday evening through Tuesday, a common summer occurrence but a reminder of how unpleasant the weather could make life for the 50,000 people expected for the convention next week.

Four years ago, Hurricane Gustav, which hit the Louisiana coast, forced Republican planners to cancel some events at their convention in Minneapolis, including a speech from President George W. Bush, who had drawn criticism for his handling of Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans in 2005.

For now, the storm is closing in on the Lesser Antilles, and forecasters expect it will become a hurricane Thursday.

Tampa news reports are filled with updates on the storm "bearing down on Florida just as Republican delegates come to town."

The hurricane came up at a news conference marking the conclusion of work by the committee drafting the party's platform, where the panel's chairman, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, was asked about preparations in case of a storm.

He looked briefly puzzled. "If you want to talk to me about Miller-Bs or low-pressure systems or derechos, I can talk to you about that," he said, referring to storm systems that have hit Virginia in recent years. "This tropical storm, I'm not up to date on," he said.

Nebraska GOP Executive Director Jordan McGrain said there was no consternation from any of the delegates or guests prepared to head south. After all, he said Nebraskans are used to dealing with severe weather and tornadoes every spring. "We can deal with extremes of every kind. I'm sure most of us would welcome a tropical storm as a new experience," McGrain said. "We're ready to ride it out."

As the storm approached, military authorities at the U.S. base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, canceled several days of pretrial hearings in the case of five prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 attacks. They also planned to evacuate about 200 people, including legal teams and relatives of Sept. 11 victims.

Includes material from The Washington Post and The Sun Sentinel

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