TAMPA, Fla. – His Republican National Convention curtailed by a threatened hurricane, Mitt Romney conceded Sunday that fresh controversy about rape and abortion is harming his party and he accused Democrats of trying to exploit it for political gain.
“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,” said Romney, struggling to sharpen the presidential election focus instead on a weak economy and 8.3 percent national unemployment.
His comments came as aides and party officials hurriedly rewrote the script for the convention, cut from four days to three because of the threat posed by approaching Tropical Storm Isaac. The storm is forecast to gain hurricane strength as it churns through the Gulf of Mexico but to pass well west of the convention city.
The revised schedule included a symbolic 10-minute session today in a nearly empty hall, during which officials intend to launch a debt clock set to zero. The political objective is to show how much the government borrows throughout the convention week.
Officials did not rule out further changes because of the weather, and sidestepped when asked what might happen if, as seemed possible, the storm made landfall in the New Orleans area on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. That storm killed 1,800 people and devastated the city.
“We're 100 percent full steam ahead on Tuesday,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, expressing confidence the one-day delay would be the extent of the cancellations.
Despite concerns about the weather, a mammoth pre-convention celebration went on as planned Sunday night, attended by thousands of delegates and others who flocked to the Rays major league baseball stadium turned into a party venue in nearby St. Petersburg.
Priebus said Romney's nomination would take place on Tuesday, as would approval of a conservative party platform.
The former Massachusetts governor delivers his acceptance speech Thursday night before a prime time TV audience, then sets out on the final leg of a quest for the presidency that spans two campaigns and more than five years.
Polls make the race a close one, with a modest advantage for President Barack Obama.
For all the Republican attempts to make the election a referendum on the incumbent's handling of the economy, other events have intervened.
An incendiary comment more than a week ago by Rep. Todd Akin, the party's candidate for a Senate seat in Missouri, is among the intrusions. In an interview, he said a woman's body has a way of preventing pregnancy in the case of a “legitimate rape.” The claim is unsupported by medical evidence, and the congressman quickly apologized.
Romney and other party officials, recognizing a political threat, unsuccessfully sought to persuade Akin to quit the race. Democrats have latched onto the controversy, noting not only what Akin said but also his opposition to abortion in all cases.