Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 19, 2014

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Big Left Turn

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Big Left Turn

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus officially starts the convention today. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

The CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing is being published from the GOP Convention in Tampa, Fla., this week. For more information on signing up to receive this free email, click here.

THE PODIUM: The 40th Republican National Convention officially opened at 2 and then recessed 5 minutes later (until 2 tomorrow), after RNC Chairman Reince Priebus conducted a single TV-worthy bit of ceremonial business — starting a “debt clock” (hanging off the club-level seats in the Tampa Bay Times Forum) that will measure the rising red ink for the rest of the week. The amount of federal borrowing when the clock was turned on was $15.986 trillion.

THE TICKET: Romney rehearsed his acceptance speech, and his wife practiced her remarks for tomorrow night, near their vacation house on Lake Winnipesaukee before heading to their home in the Boston suburbs. “Our thoughts are with the people that are in the storm’s path and hope that they’re spared any major destruction,” Romney told reporters as he left his New Hampshire retreat. But, when asked if he was considering curtailing the proceedings in Tampa, he replied: “We’ve got a great convention ahead.” (The campaign announced that Romney would preview his acceptance speech Wednesday at the American Legion convention in Indianapolis.)
“The government works for the people and not the other way around,” Ryan told a raucous crowd of more than 1,000 people who came to a rally at Janesville Craig High School (he was class of ’88) — in a semi-autobiographical speech that aides said was a preview of how he’ll introduce himself to the nation Wednesday night. He planned to spend the rest of the day working with his staff and is headed to Tampa tomorrow, a day earlier than originally planned.

THE OTHER TICKET: Obama and Biden are both off-camera and in Washington for otherwise unspecified meetings.

SIDEWAYS: Isaac is going to do more harm to the convention by giving it a wide berth than it would have inflicted with a frontal assault.

The Republicans are now destined to spend the next three days laboring to rebrand and relaunch Romney on a split screen — and by the time he delivers his climatic speech Thursday night he may be the secondary image on all of the TV networks. That’s because by then what’s now a tropical storm churning up the Gulf will have become a hurricane (probably Category 2, meaning winds above 96 mph) that has swept ashore and ravaged New Orleans — probably early on Wednesday, amazingly the seventh anniversary of Katrina’s cataclysmic strike. Crews and reporters from several networks, including GOP-friendly Fox, were already getting ready this afternoon to put down their convention credentials and pack up their ponchos for redeployment higher up along the Gulf Coast.

The convention orchestrators are helpless to change the weather, of course, but their abundance-of-caution decision to call off today’s opening session means they’re also helpless to fundamentally change (for a second time) their plans for using their precious free time on TV. There’s no way they will completely give up their time to stage their infomercials. And postponing the last night until Friday is not logistically possible; too many people have planes out that morning, too many hotel rooms have other reservations in place, too many TV trucks need to get on the road to Charlotte. The only way for the GOP to make the best of its potential public relations nightmare is to cancel (and persuade everyone else to also scrap) the parties planned for Wednesday and Thursday nights; to rewrite their prime-time speakers’ scripts to scrap some of the partisanship and substitute as much empathy as possible for any of the people who lose their lives or homes or livelihoods in the next 48 hours; to make sure that the “human side” the nominee is expected to reveal more of Thursday includes some connection to weathering high winds and flooded roads; and to pray (against all odds) that Obama will be just as slow as Bush was back in 2005 to take on the responsibilities of first-responder in chief.

Had the storm scored a direct hit here, Romney and the Republican bigwigs would have benefited a bit from some national sympathy. Instead, Isaac is now a big problem for a much bigger and more diverse slice of the country’s population. And, even if the storm does the highly unexpected and fizzles out, that won’t have happened until the convention week is more than half over — and so, no matter how the weather vagaries play out, Isaac will be remembered in GOP circles forever as the political complication that could not be avoided. A campaign that was supposed to be all about how badly Obama has done as president, and how much better Romney would be as an engineer of economic growth and job creation, last week became a campaign that was all about the widening gender gap. For this week, at least, it’s all about which party does a better job of knowing how and when to come in out of the rain.

INTERNAL AFFAIRS: The grim weather and armed-camp atmosphere of downtown Tampa — 35-miles-an-hour wind gusts, intermittent downpours, and teams of camouflaged National Guard troops and riot-gear-clad Secret Service agents at every intersection and checkpoint — have seemed to hold down the population of protesters on the convention’s canceled first day. Officials had said they were expecting as many as 5,000 to rally at the designated protest site, essentially a vacant lot a half-mile from the hockey arena; instead, only about 200 gathered for some chanting and speechmaking this morning — an assorted gaggle representing the major labor unions and groups ranging from Students for a Democratic Society to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Occupy Wall Street to Code Pink.

Organizers have essentially no interest in the message from the protesters outside the hall, but they continue to fret a bit over the potential for some protesting inside — by disgruntled delegates for Ron Paul. They remain highly annoyed that their candidate was denied a speaking role, and they were egged on yesterday by the congressman himself, who never offered Romney his endorsement (or even a mention by name) during a 77-minute stemwinder to an outdoor rally of his supporters. Now, his delegates are threatening to try to mount a floor fight over a proposed closing of a loophole in party rules that has allowed their candidate (and, in theory, other insurgents) to hoover up delegates in states that staged non-binding primaries where they didn’t do very well. It remains unclear whether they will be able to force a vote on keeping the system the way it is, but any distraction from the tightly scripted and preordained proceedings would nonetheless provide fresh annoyance to the beleaguered convention organizers.

EVERYTHING BUT THE SECRET HANDSHAKE: Eight years ago the Republicans and their challenged-for-re-election president got a full-throated, passionate (and fact-challenged) rhetorical boost from Zell Miller, a former Georgia governor who evolved from Democratic keynoter at the New York convention in 1992 into a prime-time Bush enthusiast at the 2004 GOP convention in the same city. This time, it’s the Democrats and their challenged-for-re-election president who have roped in a topflight surrogate from the other side: Charlie Crist, a former Florida governor who’s evolved from a Republican vice-presidential short-lister four years ago into the most prominent GOP backer of Obama this year — and one who previously employed a handful of top people who are now in Romney’s inner circle, to boot. A day after his presidential endorsement (and Republican-slamming) op-ed, Democratic officials confirmed today that Crist would be given a prime-time speaking slot in Charlotte next week. (Crist changed his voter registration to unaffiliated after he dropped out of the race for the GOP Senate nomination two years ago and ran against Marco Rubio as an independent, losing by 19 points.) The widespread speculation here in Florida is that Crist will formally announce his allegiance with the other team in time to run two years from now against his GOP successor as governor, Rick Scott.

LINKIN’ TO AKIN: The DCCC says it will launch radio ads in the districts of 20 endangered House GOP incumbents this week (17 of them men) lambasting them for supporting the anti-abortion plank in the party platform — and seeking to tie them to “Todd Akin’s unbelievable comments about rape and his outrageous beliefs about women’s rights.” (The authors of the Republican platform rebut the assertion that the document opposes — as does Akin — a woman’s right to an abortion even in cases of rape, incest or when her life is at risk; they say the language is “pro-life” but otherwise noncommittal on what exceptions should exist.) The spots will be broadcast in areas represented by California’s Dan Lungren and Jeff Denham, Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Florida’s Bill Young and Vern Buchanan, Illinois’ Bob Dold and Bobby Schilling, Maryland’s Roscoe Bartlett, Missouri’s Vicky Hartzler, New Hampshire’s Charlie Bass, Nevada’s Joe Heck, Pennsylvania’s Pat Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick, NRCC  Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas, Virginia’s Scott Rigell, Wisconsin’s Sean Duffy — and Paul Ryan just in case — and New Yorkers Nan Hayworth, Chris Gibson  and Ann Marie Buerkle.

Meanwhile, a Mason-Dixon poll out today shows McCaskill opening up a 9-percentage-point lead (50 to 41 percent) in the days since Akin — whose name was misspelled twice here yesterday — started the abortion kerfuffle. It’s the first statewide survey by the firm since just before the primary, in late July; at that point the congressman was ahead of the incumbent senator by 5 points (49 to 44 percent) — the smallest lead among the three major Republicans then still in the race.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Delaware tea party favorite and “I am not a witch” GOP Senate aspirant Christine O’Donnell (43); Democratic House freshman Kathy Hochul (54), whose suburban Buffalo and Rochester district has been redrawn as the most Republican in New York — guaranteeing her a tossup fight for a full term against Republican Chris Collins, a former Erie County executive.

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter @davidhawkings.

More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

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