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Last updated: August 28, 2012 6:26 pm
The Republican national convention will get under way on Tuesday, with Chris Christie, the famously explosive New Jersey governor, set to fire up the conservative base and energise proceedings that will lead to Mitt Romney being officially nominated for the presidency.
With hurricane Isaac missing the convention site in Tampa, Florida, the convention was due to continue as scheduled on Tuesday, although Romney campaign officials were concerned about the optics if Isaac wreaks havoc on other parts of the Gulf of Mexico coast.
The storm strengthened from a tropical storm to a category one hurricane on Tuesday as it approached New Orleans a day before the seventh anniversary of hurricane Katrina.
About 50,000 people have converged on Tampa for the convention, where Tuesday’s line-up will include John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives; John Kasich and Scott Walker, the governors of Ohio and Wisconsin respectively; Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife; and Mr Christie.
“I absolutely believe he can win and will win,” Mr Christie told NBC on Tuesday morning.
A new CBS News poll released on Tuesday showed that half of registered voters considered Mr Romney to be unempathetic. Only 41 per cent of respondents said the Republican candidate understood their needs and problems, compared to 54 per cent who said President Barack Obama was understanding.
Polls have consistently showed Mr Romney falling behind Mr Obama in the favourability stakes, a worry for Republicans as the November 6 election shapes up to be exceedingly close.
In line with a slew of other recent polls, CBS found Mr Romney and Mr Obama locked in a statistical tie. The incumbent had 46 per cent support in the poll, compared to 45 per cent for his Republican challenger.
Meanwhile, Mr Christie, who was considered by the Romney campaign as a running mate – Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin lawmaker, was chosen instead – quashed a story that he declined to take the job because he would have had to give up the New Jersey statehouse to run.
New Jersey governor denied a New York Post story published on Monday “categorically” and said it was “absolutely untrue”.
The convention, already delayed a day because of the storm, had appeared to be headed for a divisive floor battle after supporters of Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas and presidential hopeful, claimed that the RNC had changed the rules to limit Mr Paul’s ability to win delegate slots at future conventions.
Mr Paul has 177 pledged delegates ready to vote for him, according to an Associated Press tally, a far cry from the 1,144 needed to win the nomination. But it is enough for the Paul crowd to cause a ruckus at the convention.
Party officials had looked for ways to stop Paul supporters taking advantage of states that hold two sets of primary votes, a non-binding and then a lower profile binding round at state conventions, to scoop up delegates.
But under a deal struck on Monday night, the RNC and the Paul supporters agreed that a bound delegate must vote for the presidential candidate required by their state rules but left the selection of delegates up to the states.
This overrides a previous suggestion that presidential candidates could veto delegates sent by the states, a development that Mr Paul’s supporters said would enable the party establishment to smother insurgent challengers like the Texas libertarian.
Mr Paul, who retains a crowd of ardent supporters, declined an invitation to speak at the convention because he would have had to submit to Romney campaign restrictions on what he could say, but his son, Kentucky senator Rand Paul, will address the crowd on Tuesday night.
Even as it negotiated with the Paul team, the Romney campaign faced a bigger problem in placating party stalwarts who said its proposed rule change would infringe on states’ rights to determine their own delegates.
James Bopp, an Indiana delegate and Republican power player, said a deal had been reached to end the stand-off.
“The leadership of the Republican National Committee and the Romney for President campaign has heard the concerns of the conservative grassroots voices in our party and has crafted an amendment to the rules adopted on Friday to address these concerns,” Mr Bopp wrote in the email to RNC members, which was obtained by The Hill newspaper.
“We are pleased that our party has come together to fashion this compromise. This will allow Republicans of all stripes to come to the convention united and focused on defeating Barack Obama in November,” he said, according to the Washington paper.
Russ Schriefer, Mr Romney’s convention planner, played down questions over a lack of unity in the party before proceedings began.
“In terms of unity, we are a big party. We have people with different opposing viewpoints. I don’t think this is a particularly divisive point of view,” Mr Schriefer said on Monday night.
“The one thing we know is we’re all united in defeating Barack Obama and at the end of the day, I guarantee you on Thursday as we walk out of this convention we will be 100 per cent united behind Mitt Romney and defeating Barack Obama for the good of the country.”
But Erick Erickson, a Tea Party conservative who edits the RedState.com newsletter, suggested that the delegates deal was not as done as party operatives were suggesting.
“That issue appears resolved, but several people I’ve spoken to make clear that Team Romney and the RNC establishment are using that compromise as a red herring to distract from two major rules change proposals that would decimate Republican grassroots and prevent upstart political campaigns,” he wrote to subscribers on Tuesday morning.
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