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Convention Notebook: Hillsborough Or Bust

It looks calm now … The Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of the 2012 Republican National Convention (AP)

TAMPA, Fla. — Here we are as Tropical Storm Isaac rolls through the Gulf, at a certain cost to Mitt Romney and the GOP convention in town.

The convention has not yet officially opened, but already speeches have been cancelled or moved — big-name speakers have been displaced by those with an even bigger footprint.

Isaac forced planned parties to cope with smaller crowds; it even cancelled the band Lynyrd Skynyrd’s appearance at Sunday night’s opening party. At times this weekend, the convention schedule was about as fluid as a bag of ice sitting on Tampa asphalt.

Conventions are very much about momentum — the Big Mo. Will yours take Mo away from the other candidate? How much did you have coming in? And the key question: How much Mo do you get going out?

Right now, that question is no more crucial anywhere in the country than here in Hillsborough County, this rain-soaked, delegate-clogged, convention-postponed county along Interstate 4. So says William March, longtime senior political reporter for The Tampa Tribune.

“The swing area of Florida is central Florida,” he explains. “North Florida is Republican, south Florida is roughly Democratic. The I-4 corridor, a large belt across the middle of the state, is what decides how we go in statewide elections. In the I-4 corridor, the largest media market is the Tampa area, which is where we’re sitting. So it’s easy to make a case that the Tampa area, Hillsborough County, is the swing area for a national election.”

Mitt Romney will try to make the most of the rest of this week, as he reintroduces himself — to Hillsborough County and the rest of nation — as the official GOP nominee for the first time. He is upbeat, telling reporters on Sunday near his summer home in Wolfeboro, N.H., where the weather was partly sunny and calm, “It’ll be a great convention.”

He also did express concern about Isaac, saying, “Hope everybody’s fine there.”

Some might be reading that as, “Hope I’m fine, too.”

Clearly Isaac has already robbed this convention of some the attention it has been counting on here, in its hopes of using this week as a breakaway moment in Florida, where the polls show the race between Romney and President Obama is very close.

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