2012 ELECTION

2012 Republican National Convention opens

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The Republican National Convention officially began Monday - but the big show has been canceled even as Tropical Storm Isaac turned out to be no big deal in Tampa.

Still, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell says his speech in primetime Tuesday night will carry the same message about Mitt Romney - even with a tighter schedule.

“What we need is just some straight honest talk with the American people,” he says. “Someone who will look at them and say 'we're broke - we cannot afford this spending anymore.' I mean families get that - they are doing that in their homes. Businesses are having to do it.”

McDonnell has become a key surrogate for the Romney campaign - asked to make appearances across the country and meet with voters here from other must win states like Ohio.

But as the storm barrels down on the gulf coast, party leaders may cancel the balloon drop and other festivities.

“The risk is great of having the bad optics of balloons dropping if Americans are being hurt someplace else,” says one.

Even with no convention to attend, delegates were still just excited to be here. All are decked out for GOP challenger Mitt Romney and his VP pick, Paul Ryan.

The Maryland delegation met Monday and they say Isaac hasn't killed any of the excitement.

“Now it's not raining, which is a little anti-climactic, but still just really excited to be here - and honored. Truly,” says Maryland Delegate Kathy Afzali.

Outside the arena, the storm and a massive police presence limited protests, with only a fraction of the 5,000 expected demonstrators turning out to criticize the GOP's economic and social policies.

Due to the storm, the party hastily rewrote its convention script to present the extravaganza's prime rituals and headline speakers later in the week, and further changes were possible.

Planners said Monday's speakers would be worked into the schedule later in the week.

"We're going to continue with our Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday schedule," said Russ Schriefer, the chief convention planner. At least one speaker bowed out.

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, speaking in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., before heading for the convention on Tuesday, delivered a message that echoed at meetings and news conferences all across Tampa - the Obama presidency has been a failure, and Romney offers a different course.

"We're not just picking the next president for a few years," he said. "We are picking the pathway for America for a generation."

Ryan warned the United States under Obama has faltered: "It's a nation in debt, it's a nation in doubt, it's a nation in decline," he said.

In a boost to Obama's convention next week, Florida's former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist was added as a speaker. Crist had announced on Sunday that he was endorsing Obama, saying he was the correct choice and criticizing his former party for its move to the right.

The roll call of state delegations affirming Romney as the party's nominee now is to unfold Tuesday, an evening capped by speeches from Ann Romney and an assortment of GOP governors.

Ryan gets the prime-time spotlight Wednesday, and Romney closes out the spectacle Thursday night, his springboard into the final leg of the contest. That's all if the storm brings no further complications.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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