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First Thoughts: Two storms in two weeks

Two storms in two weeks… First Akin, now Isaac… Raising the specter of Hurricane Katrina… The revised schedule: The only official activity today is gaveling in the start of the convention at 2:00 pm ET… New WaPo/ABC poll shows the presidential race deadlocked… But Romney acknowledges that the Obama ads have done damage… Obama ties Romney to House GOP… Florida ad spending surpasses $100 million… Ryan stumps in Janesville… And poll shows McCaskill leading Akin.

TAMPA, FL -- Last week, Mitt Romney and Republicans were battling a political storm over Todd Akin’s controversial remarks about abortion and rape, which dominated the political conversation and further highlighted the GOP’s gender gap. And this week, they’re battling an actual storm that has already canceled today’s convention activities and speeches, and that threatens to divert the media’s attention to a potentially much bigger story. Romney and the Republicans already lost one week with Akin, and they can’t afford to lose another because of Tropical Storm (and soon-to-be Hurricane) Isaac.  

*** Katrina’s specter: While Tampa has avoided a direct hit, Isaac risks presenting an even bigger problem for the convention planners here -- becoming a hurricane and slamming into Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday. And politically, it has raised the specter of Hurricane Katrina. The New York Times: “Republicans were wary of the optics of television coverage split between the revelry and partisanship surrounding Mr. Romney’s nomination and the threat of the storm making landfall in Louisiana or Mississippi seven years to the week after Hurricane Katrina left an American city in ruins.” The paper adds, “It is the second consecutive time Republicans have had their conventions disrupted by the August storms.” 

*** The revised schedule: For now, Republicans maintain that Isaac isn’t going to disrupt the remaining part of the convention. "Until we ... can predict the weather, we're going to continue with our Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday schedule," Romney adviser Russ Schriefer said yesterday on a conference call with reporters. Could that change? "As soon as we have any more info....we'll let you know." So here is the revised schedule:

Slideshow: Republican National Convention

Monday: RNC Chair Reince Priebus will gavel in the start of the convention at 2:00 pm ET and then will immediately announce a recess for the rest of the day.

Tuesday night (for the schedule beginning at 9:00 pm):  NV Gov. Brian Sandoval, Texas Sen nominee Ted Cruz, Artur Davis, SC Gov. Nikki Haley, Ann Romney, and NJ Gov. Chris Christie.  

Wednesday night (for the schedule beginning at 9:00 pm): PR Gov. Luis Fortuno, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Condi Rice, NM Gov. Susana Martinez, and Paul Ryan.

Thursday night (for the schedule beginning at 9:00 pm): Kerry Healy, FL Sen. Marco Rubio, and Mitt Romney. 

*** Deadlocked: Just in time for the convention, a new Washington Post/ABC poll finds the presidential race essentially even, with Romney at 47% among registered voters and President Obama at 46%. The Washington Post’s take: “The findings continue a months-long pattern, with neither the incumbent nor the challenger able to sustain clear momentum, despite airing hundreds of millions of dollars in television ads — most of them negative — and exchanging some of the harshest early rhetoric seen in a modern presidential campaign.”

*** Romney blasts Obama’s “campaign of personal vilification”: Despite this new poll, Romney -- in two recent interviews with print/online publications -- has acknowledged the toll the Obama campaign’s ads have taken on his favorability numbers. "I do think that the president's campaign of personal vilification and demonization probably draws some people away from me," Romney told USA Today in response to a question why he was no better than tied against Obama. “What has been the focus of the Obama ads?” Romney added to Politico. “Do they talk about my record in Massachusetts? Do they talk about my policy? No, they’re all personal attack ads that in some respects say not only outrageous, but entirely wrong things. People don’t know me, and they haven’t had a chance to see me yet, [so] they might believe those things.” Flashback to Romney’s “TODAY” interview on Jan. 30 when asked about his campaign’s attacks on Newt Gingrich: "There's no question that politics ain't bean bags, and we have made sure that our message is out loud and clear.” 

*** Obama ties Romney to the House GOP: Meanwhile, Obama gave his own print interview over the weekend, telling the AP that Romney has embraced the “extreme positions” of House Republicans. "I can't speak to Gov. Romney's motivations," Obama said in the interview. "What I can say is that he has signed up for positions, extreme positions, that are very consistent with positions that a number of House Republicans have taken. And whether he actually believes in those or not, I have no doubt that he would carry forward some of the things that he's talked about." Obama added, "We aren't where we need to be. Everybody agrees with that. But Gov. Romney's policies would make things worse for middle-class families and offer no prospect for long-term opportunity for those striving to get into the middle class.” 

*** FL ad spending surpasses $100 million: Given that we’re in Florida for the GOP convention, here is something to chew on: Out of the nearly $550 million spent on ads in the general election, one-fifth of that amount -- $110 million -- has been spent in the Sunshine State. In fact, Florida ($110 million), Ohio ($108 million), Virginia ($80 million), North Carolina ($56 million), and Colorado ($51 million) account for $405 million out of the grand total of $550 million. 

*** Ryan’s send-off rally: At 12:20 pm ET, Paul Ryan attends a send-off rally in his hometown of Janesville, WI -- at the high school he attended. Per the campaign, Ryan “will talk about the values his hometown taught him and how they're needed in Washington right now.” Ryan also will preview the remarks he’ll deliver at the GOP convention on Wednesday.

*** Poll: McCaskill now leading Akin: Turning back to the Akin story, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch/KMOV-TV/Mason-Dixon poll shows that the embattled congressman is now trailing Claire McCaskill by nine points among likely voters, 50%-41%, National Journal reports. “In late July, before winning a contentious, three-way primary, Akin led McCaskill, 49 percent to 44 percent.” In the presidential contest, the poll shows Romney leading Obama, 50%-43%.

Countdown to Dem convention: 7 days
Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 37 days
Countdown to VP debate: 45 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 50 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 56 days
Countdown to Election Day: 71 days