TAMPA On Sunday night, Aug. 26, at the opening bash of the Republican National Convention at Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseballs Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, the winds roiled the waters that lap the bridge linking Tampa with St. Petersburg, echoes of Hurricane Isaac, heading west toward New Orleans.
The storm mostly missed the Tampa region, but its threat was potent enough to shut down the conventions first formal day on Monday not enough, however, to put a stop to the barbecued pigs (a Cuban delicacy), cheerleaders, free wine and Rodney Atkins singing.
For those seeking Jewish content, a noted rabbi was set to kick off the formal proceedings on Tuesday, and throughout the rain-drenched towns of Tampa Bay were many events addressing the pro-Israel communitys foreign policy concerns.
There was political noise, too: Tea Partiers met at rallies in the region to protest what they depicted as an attempt by Mitt Romney to marginalize the hardline conservatives as he attempts to steer the party toward the center ahead of Novembers elections.
There were reports that small groups of delegates in state delegations would protest either by not voting at the convention or by switching votes to libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the only contender from the primaries who has not formally relinquished his nomination fight.
Followers of Paul unleashed their anger with the partys establishment and particularly its advocacy for a robust US posture overseas at a packed rally on the University of South Florida campus.
The rally was structured as a passing of the torch from Paul, 76, to his son, US Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), 49.
THE convention schedule, constantly shifting because of the weather, was a template of Romneys struggle to define himself and to accommodate the partys multiple strands. Organizers pointed reporters particularly to the primetime 10-11 p.m. slot on Tuesday that featured Romneys wife, Ann, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Both choices were aimed squarely at attempts by Democrats and the Obama campaign to depict Romney as a flip-flopper beholden to ultra-conservatives.
Ann Romney, seen as his most appealing surrogate, would once and for all humanize him, and Christie would show how a moderate Republican could prevail in a Democratic state, as Romney had done when he governed Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.
The partys conservative wing would also be present, with speeches by Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who was Romneys most pronounced social conservative challenger during the campaign, and Rand Paul. There also will be a video tribute to Ron Paul, an event that Jewish Democrats have derided.
Notably absent as speakers were any remnant of the past decades GOP bids for the presidency. Former President George W. Bush is not present or speaking, nor is his vice president, Dick Cheney.
Missing also is the 2008 ticket, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor.
ROMNEY has, however, surrounded himself with foreign policy advisers from past presidents.
Most notably for the pro-Israel community, his top Middle East adviser is Den Senor, who has close ties with AIPAC and was the US spokesman in Iraq in the period following the war that ousted Saddam Hussein.
AIPAC, as it has at past conventions, was running a number of closed events with top campaign advisers in the Tampa area during the convention, and is planning to do the same next week in Charlotte, NC, when the Democrats meet.
On the pro-Israel lobbys agenda in Tampa is a bid to understand how Romney would distinguish himself from President Obama in confronting Iran and a broader Middle East roiled by change the principal source of tension between the president and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
One signal of consistency with the Obama presidency emerged last week during platform debate when Romney surrogates, led by Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), pushed back against bids to remove a commitment to eventual Palestinian statehood from the platform.
Talent noted at the time that two states remains the official Israeli government position.
Jewish officials, committed to building bipartisan consensus on Israel and other issues, expressed concerns about navigating a polarized Washington.
At an American Jewish Committee event on energy policy, Richard Foltin, the AJCs director of legislative affairs, acknowledged the difficulties of making the case for an AJC energy security policy that strives for a middle ground between exploiting US natural resources, which Republicans favor, and alternatives to fossil fuels, the choice of Democrats.
Its our role as advocates to say we are not free to desist, even though we are dealing in a polarized and difficult time to move those agendas, Foltin said.
THE convention schedule also underscored Romneys bid to make more diverse a party that has become increasingly identified with white Christians.
Delivering Tuesdays opening invocation is Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, the scion of a distinguished rabbinic family who has opined on (small c) conservative issues.
He also is the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on Manhattans Upper East Side.
Also delivering blessings are Hispanic evangelical leader Sammy Rodriguez; Ishwar Singh, a leader in Central Floridas Sikh community (who approached convention organizers about delivering an invocation in the wake of the recent massacre at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin); Archbishop Demetrios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America; Ken and Priscilla
Hutchins, the president and matron of the Mormon temple in Romneys home base of Boston; and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of New Yorks Roman Catholic Archdiocese and the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.