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Republicans blown off course by gaffes as storm delays convention

By David Usborne

Top Republicans were scrambling yesterday to insist that their party convention in Tampa would still be the success they desperately need to give White House challenger Mitt Romney a big lift in the polls, notwithstanding an approaching hurricane and a distracting trail over recent days of political gaffes, mishaps and unforced errors.

Organisers of the gathering that is expected to attract about 50,000 delegates were already redrawing the schedule last night after scrubbing today's proceedings because of Tropical Storm Isaac, forecast to strengthen into a hurricane and brush the west of Tampa this afternoon and tonight. Reince Preibus, the head of the Republican National Committee, said the convention would definitely start tomorrow.

"We're 100 per cent full-steam ahead on Tuesday," Mr Priebus said last night. "We're going to tell the Mitt Romney story, we're still going to prosecute the President on what he promised, what he delivered, and why we think we need to save this country and put Mitt Romney in the White House."

The weather delay already means that a speech by Ann Romney that officials hope will give a more human and empathetic face to the candidate has been moved from Monday to Tuesday. Other speakers like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey have been told their speeches must be shorter.

For the thousands who poured into Tampa at the weekend in the hope of beating any weather-related airport closures, it was a blustery welcome. There was a risk of evacuation for those in beachside hotels as forecasters warned of flooding.

Mr Romney still lags in most national and battleground polls. The convention is the moment the party formally anoints him as its nominee and the attendant razzmatazz and media coverage would normally be expected to give him and his running mate, Paul Ryan, a sizeable polling bump. However, the last several days have hardly helped Mr Romney thanks notably to remarks made by a conservative US Senate candidate in Missouri on abortion and a misfired joke by Romney about President Obama and his birth certificate.

Yesterday Mr Romney again tried to inoculate himself from the fallout created by the candidate who made the abortion remarks, Congressman Todd Akin. "I've asked him to get out of the race. I think I've distanced myself from the thing that he said as far as I can," he said in a Fox News interview.

An interview by President Obama with the Associated Press at the weekend in which he tied Mr Romney to extreme conservative positions being voiced by some in his party prompted a sharp riposte yesterday from Senator Rubio, who said the President is trying to distract the public from the weak economic recovery.

"Barack Obama can't run by saying, 'Vote for me because things have gotten better. Vote for me because my ideas have worked.' And so I think you're going to see more and more of this type of rhetoric on his behalf," the Senator told CBS news. Mr Obama said his challenger had "signed up for positions, extreme positions, that are very consistent with positions that a number of House Republicans have taken".

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