Fears that the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., would be washed out by Tropical Storm Isaac have taken a backseat to concern for neighboring Gulf Coast states and New Orleans, House Speaker John Boehner said today during an exclusive interview with "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer.
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"It's going to be a question of how strong does this storm build in this water out in the Gulf of Mexico," Boehner said. "After what they've been through with Katrina, to have another big hurricane come there, it's a cause for concern."
Meteorologists expect Isaac to gain strength and be upgraded to hurricane status in the next 24 hours as it cuts north-northwest on a path that could put it on a collision course with New Orleans and other low-lying areas in the region. The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have all declared states of emergency in preparation for the storm's arrival on their shores, and they've all canceled plans to attend the convention.
In Tampa, though, Republicans are hoping that Isaac's brooding clouds give way to a sunny new day for the Romney campaign, which has been bogged down in the past week by assorted controversies and intra-party hand-wringing.
Not that there's anything but "love" between Boehner and Romney, who recently made a joke about the speaker's tendency to go red in the face and shed tears in tender moments.
"I am emotional," Romney said. "People don't think I am, but I am emotional," but "I'm not as emotional as John Boehner."
"It's OK," Boehner said. "Listen, you only tease the ones you love. I was at Birdie's for the Brave event this morning, to help raise money for wounded soldiers and their families and, you know, there were some emotional moments."
As comfortable as he is with "emotion," Boehner hopes for relative calm in the convention hall, as delegates who have at times clashed over the party platform join together before a national audience.
"We're always going to have divisions in the party, but our divisions pale in comparison to our friends across the aisle," he told Sawyer. "But we've done a pretty good job of holding our team down."
The Ohioan, 62, also said that Republicans, including a tea party contingent that makes up 28 percent of conventioneers, are ready to line up behind Romney, who goes from "presumptive" to official GOP presidential nominee this week.
"After a brutal, year-long [primary] campaign amongst Republican candidates, 90 percent of the Republicans were already behind him," Boehner said. "And you know why? Because it's all about the economy."
If Romney has, indeed, won over the party, Boehner concedes that he still has work to do with undecided voters.
Twice he stressed the need for Romney to "reintroduce" himself during the public parts of the convention.
"Governor Romney has an opportunity to basically reintroduce himself. Talk about his values and his plan to fix our economy," Boehner said. "Because the American people are still asking the question, 'Where are the jobs?'"
Convention-goers and television viewers are also likely to ask about the clock: the "national debt clock," that is, that the RNC has mounted inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum. There are two tickers actually, one counting the total debt, which now exceeds $15.9 trillion, and another that started running at 2 p.m. today, designed to show how much the figure increases during the Tampa convention.
"This is going to be the burden of our kids and grandkids if we don't deal with it," Boehner told Sawyer. "And instead of getting smaller, it's getting bigger."