CLEARWATER, FLA. – Even though the Republican National Convention missed a direct hit from one storm on Monday, controversy and bad weather still threaten to dampen the GOP’s chance to showcase its presidential ticket behind a unified party.
Although former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has the GOP nomination for president sewn up, a number of Colorado delegates to the RNC in Tampa plan to abstain rather than cast a vote for him in the official roll call on Tuesday. Six delegates who back Rep. Ron Paul of Texas — along with two who had pledged support to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania before he dropped out of the race and released his delegates — formally announced their intentions at a delegation breakfast on Monday to withhold their votes from Romney.
In another development at the breakfast, a Colorado delegate asked fellow Republicans to get behind a brewing protest over proposed changes to party rules. The dispute could gum up Tuesday morning’s convention proceedings, although party officials suggested it would likely be resolved before blossoming into a floor fight.
The morning meeting — held at the Colorado delegation’s Holiday Inn headquarters in Clearwater, about a dozen miles from the convention site — also featured a visit and pep talk from the candidate’s son Matt Romney, along with plenty of updates to a convention schedule upended by Tropical Storm Isaac.
As the tempest churned northward toward the Gulf Coast, Isaac was poised to develop into a full-fledged hurricane forecasters fear could strike New Orleans seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Concerns about weather conditions in the Tampa Bay area — already strained as an estimated 50,000 visitors pour into the metro region for the RNC — led organizers to cancel Monday’s convention’s program.
The Tampa area was briefly under a tornado warning on Monday afternoon, but Isaac left only a nearly constant rain and some gusty breezes in its wake, along with a stretch of unexpected free time for Colorado’s delegates, alternates and guests. Some took the opportunity to go see a recently released documentary critical of President Barack Obama, some took in the sights and others rested up for what promises to be a packed schedule for the rest of the week.
Although The National Journal reported on Monday afternoon that Romney campaign officials were prepared to trim the convention to just one full day — in reaction to a worst-case scenario if Isaac dealt a strong, distracting blow to the coast — a top Romney advisor said in a conference call with reporters that organizers were planning to stick to the truncated three-day agenda. “Moving forward, there’s no change with the Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday schedule,” said Russ Schriefer. “Obviously, our thoughts are with people in the path of the storm.”
State GOP chair Ryan Call said he fully expects the schedule to proceed as planned, and that “a little bit of rain and a little bit of wind” wouldn’t get in the way of convention plans. “Nor will the weather dampen our spirits in support of our candidates,” he added.
Kicking off the breakfast meeting, after joking that none of the Romney sons inherited the hair of their notoriously well-coifed father, Matt Romney told the Colorado delegation that his dad regularly demonstrates that he knows how to fix things, telling a story about the elder Romney’s swift, take-charge response when Matt’s wife was pregnant and confined to bed rest.
The younger Romney had been leaving his spouse with some meals packed in a cooler and little else to occupy her while he went to work, Romney said, a situation his father found unacceptable and quickly rectified by carrying a television upstairs, splicing cable and connecting it to the TV set, and arranging for a college student to run errands for her.
“This all happened within about an hour,” Romney smiled. “I’m sure you can imagine how humbled I was to see how someone actually can take care of things. He showed me an example of how to fix things — that’s just what he does, he does it time and again.”
After hearing from Romney, Call welcomed Ron Paul supporter Luke Kirk, an officially unpledged delegate from southwestern Colorado, to the front of the room so the two could poll the delegation in advance of the next morning’s presidential nomination.
Although Romney — officially, the ticket of Romney and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, his pick as the vice presidential nominee — won the lion’s share of delegate support, Paul supporters and two Santorum delegates said they wouldn’t vote for the presumptive nominees.
“Romney-Ryan,” said Arapahoe County Republican Party chair Joy Hoffman, echoing what the majority of delegates said. But when it came time for state Sen. Ted Harvey to declare his plans, the Highlands Ranch Republican stood, grinned, and stated, “Szabo-Grantham,” with a nod toward fellow lawmakers Libby Szabo and Kevin Grantham, as the crowd erupted in laughter, breaking some of the tension building in the hotel ballroom.
“We understand that we have a very diverse delegation,” Call told The Colorado Statesman after the morning meeting. “It’s up to them to choose how they wish to have their vote cast.”
He said party leaders decided to poll the delegation before the official roll call out of a “sensitive desire to make sure everything we do is completely transparent and above board.”
Alternate Joe Burke, a pledged Paul backer from Teller County, was among those who said he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Romney at the convention but planned to vote for him in November.
“I’m a Ron Paul supporter, but I’m primarily not voting for Romney, I’m voting against Obama,” he told The Statesman. “We need to get the socialist, liberal party out of power and, from that point on, then we can start reform within our party and get our party platform planks into place.”
Burke said that most of the Paul supporters he knew would likely back Romney when it comes time to cast ballots.
“The ones I’ve talked to, they’re intelligent enough to realize they have to vote the party line — we have to vote for Romney to get Obama out,” he said. “We don’t want to vote for him, but we will, because Ron Paul doesn’t have a real, logical chance.” He added that he’d heard people “mutter” about voting for Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson or writing in Paul’s name. “But most of them won’t, they realize we’ve got to vote for Romney, otherwise they’re just throwing their vote away.”
RNC Rules Committee member and unpledged delegate Dudley Brown asked the Colorado delegation to sign on to a challenge aimed at rejecting a pair of proposed party rules that could make it harder for an insurgent candidate like Paul to challenge an establishment candidate like Romney, though he stressed that the rules wouldn’t affect this year’s contest.
The first proposed rules change would allow the Republican National Committee to change the rules between conventions, a move backers suggest merely lets the party react more nimbly to changing circumstances but that detractors charge would let GOP stalwarts run roughshod over grassroots activists. The other rule would give presidential candidates veto power over their delegates, letting them oust suspected sleeper delegates for fringe candidates or otherwise determine who they want to send to the next national convention.
Brown — who said he plans to step aside and let a Romney-supporting alternate take his place at Tuesday’s presidential roll call vote — said that delegates should reject the attempt to “centralize” control in the hands of the Republicans who run the RNC and keep it where it belongs, with the grassroots activists.
“This is very, very, very important,” Harvey said, urging delegates to pay the utmost attention to Brown’s arguments. If the RNC adopts the rule allowing presidential candidates to vet their delegates, he said, “The Republican Party in Colorado is meaningless.” He added, “We have got to stand firm against what the RNC is trying to do.”
Call cautioned against over-reacting. “There’s going to be a lot of heated rhetoric,” he said, urging delegates to “look past what the rules change says and look at what the rules change does.”
He added that negotiations were under way that could lead to a compromise before the Rules Committee report came before the convention the next morning so suggested the delegation wait and see what developed, which is what delegates decided to do.
In addition to delegates and alternates, state dignitaries in attendance include U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, House Speaker Frank McNulty, House Majority Leader Amy Stephens and state Sen. Scott Renfroe.
With the afternoon unexpectedly free, a large group of Colorado’s RNC contingent went off to the movies, commandeering the Holiday Inn’s shuttle vans for a ride to a nearby theater to see “2016: Obama’s America,” a documentary that was released late last week. Another group ventured north a few miles to picturesque Dunedin, described as a “charming little Scottish town” by the RNC volunteer who suggested the destination. “They wanted to go anywhere that wasn’t a mall,” she smiled. Gessler told The Statesman that he filled his afternoon with more routine activities, getting in a workout at a nearby gym, doing some laundry and grabbing lunch at the Chick-fil-A across the street.