Mitt Romney is to fly to Tampa on Tuesday, two days earlier than expected, as he seeks to prevent Tropical Storm Isaac from overshadowing his coronation as the Republican presidential nominee.
In a surprise announcement, aides confirmed only that the White House hopeful would be in Tampa, but the expectation was that he would attend the convention to see his wife Ann give a primetime speech on the storm-delayed opening night.
"She's going to do terrific," Romney told reporters in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire as they emerged from a preparation session.
"I like my speech. I really like Ann's speech. Our sons are already in Tampa and they say it's terrific there, a lot of great friends, and we're looking forward to a great convention."
What was supposed to be a raucous beginning to four days of carefully choreographed political theater opened with a whimper Monday as Isaac hogged the media spotlight, barreling through the Gulf of Mexico on course for a direct hit on New Orleans on Tuesday after strengthening into a hurricane.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus declared a recess to a mostly empty hall almost before proceedings had begun, saying the thoughts and prayers of all must first and foremost be with the people of the Gulf Coast.
The original script was for thousands of jubilant delegates to formally nominate Romney on Monday to take on President Barack Obama in the November 6 election, launching a succession of well-honed speeches by party luminaries.
That roll call will now take place on Tuesday afternoon, possibly now with Romney in attendance.
Lying neck-and-neck with Obama in the polls 10 weeks before election day, Romney hopes to use the convention to recast his image after months of damaging White House attacks on his tax secrecy and business record.
Many US voters do not really tune in until the convention season starts -- Obama and the Democrats hold their event next week in Charlotte, North Carolina -- so Tampa provides Romney with a golden opportunity to reset the narrative.
The run-up to the convention was marred by incendiary remarks from Todd Akin, a Republican congressman seeking a Senate seat in Missouri who suggested women's bodies spontaneously prevent pregnancy after a "legitimate rape."
The Romney camp is thus anxious to get the campaign back on message, billing the former Massachusetts governor as a successful businessman with the acumen to turn around the flagging US economy and get the country back on track.
Ann Romney's speech is expected to try to boost his likability by highlighting his human side, while former Olympians take to the floor on Thursday to remind Americans that he saved the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics from bankruptcy.
The storm presents the candidate with the specter of a natural disaster casting a pall over his big moment, and he must tread a fine line between driving his political ambitions and showing sensitivity to those in harm's way.
"Our thoughts are with the people that are in the storm's path and (we) hope that they're spared any major destruction," Romney said earlier Monday.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who was due to speak at the convention, was forced to stay home and prepare for disaster, while vice presidential pick Paul Ryan delayed his arrival in Tampa until Tuesday because of the storm.
Romney aides promised the show would go on largely as planned as they frantically repackaged four days of events into three.
Party officials stressed that the main night-time speaking slots on Tuesday and Wednesday, culminating in Romney's acceptance speech on Thursday after an introduction by rising Hispanic star Marco Rubio, remained unchanged.
"The hurricane presents a tough situation," said Diane Heith, associate professor of politics at St John's University in New York.
"In purely political terms, there is a lot competing for news attention, the convention versus this hurricane. The more significant the weather event, the harder it will be for Romney to get out the message the Republican party planned."
Forecasts put Isaac on a direct path for New Orleans, seven years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and killed 1,800 people in the country's worst natural disaster in living memory.
National polls have shown a neck-and-neck race between Romney and Obama for weeks. A Washington Post and ABC News poll out Monday showed the challenger one point ahead, 47 percent to 46 percent.
Other surveys show Obama with crucial leads in some of the most important swing states that could decide the election.© ANP/AFP