(AP) TAMPA, Florida - Republicans were scrambling Sunday to rejigger the schedule for their massive rally to officially name Mitt Romney to challenge President Barack Obama, working feverishly on a new plan for the storm-shortened gathering that kicks off the fall campaign for the White House.
As Tropical Storm Isaac whirled north along Florida's west coast, Romney and his party canceled Monday's first day of the Republican National Convention in a bow to nature's potential fury.
"The safety of those in Isaac's path is of the utmost importance," Romney tweeted after Republican officials announced they had called off Monday's convention proceedings.
Because of possible storm surges and flooding that Isaac could bring, convention organizers said they were making contingency plans to move delegates who have been booked into beachfront hotels to other locations if necessary. They indicated the schedule shift also was meant to prevent overburdening emergency response personnel at the height of the storm.
With Monday's schedule now a blank, Romney was still working to undo the small lead that polls show Obama holds going into the convention.
In an interview broadcast by Fox News, Romney accused Obama's campaign of trying to link him to Rep. Todd Akin's statements about rape and abortion. The Republican standard-bearer said that was a sad new low in the bitter election race, but he conceded the controversy over Akin's remarks was hurting the Republican Party.
Akin is the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri who said women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy from a "legitimate" rape. Romney and other party leaders criticized those statements and urged Akin to drop out of the Senate race. Akin, a favorite of Christian conservatives who oppose all abortions even in the case of rape and incest, has refused to step aside.
"It really is sad, isn't it, with all the issues that America faces for the Obama campaign to continue to stoop to such a low level," Romney said on Fox.
Obama hasn't explicitly linked Romney to Akin, but he said in an interview with The Associated Press that his opponent has locked himself into "extreme positions" on economic and social issues and would surely impose them if elected president.
As Romney aides worked to reshape the convention schedule and Isaac moved north, the candidate was taking a rare day off the campaign trail at his lakeside vacation home in New Hampshire, receiving updates on the storm, attending services at the local Mormon church, and making final preparations for the Thursday speech with which he will accept his party's presidential nomination.
Obama was at the Camp David presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains north of Washington, gearing up for campaigning this week on college campuses across Iowa, Colorado and Virginia - all so-called swing states where polls show voters are not solidly in the camp of one candidate or the other.
The U.S. president is not chosen according to the nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests. Of the 50 states, about 43 are already viewed as settled upon Romney or Obama, meaning the outcome in seven states - including those Obama visits this week - likely will decide which man sits in the White House for the next four years.
Republicans decided late Saturday to bring the convention symbolically into session Monday but to postpone the day's events until Tuesday.
Convention spokesman James Davis said organizers were closely monitoring the storm's path but planned to rely on emergency management officials to guide decisions on whether to relocate delegates at waterfront hotels. So far, none have been moved nor had officials received word of major problems for inbound delegates.
Davis said the GOP's advice to delegates was "if your travel plans have not been interrupted and they're set, we recommend you come on down."
Obama has dispatched the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish a command center and move more resources into the state. Vice President Joe Biden scrapped a planned campaign trip into Florida that was to counter the start of the Republican gathering.
Republicans hope to use this week's convention to cast Romney as a determined leader with the know-how to fix the country's economy. They also want to introduce him as a family-oriented figure to counter Democrats' attempts to paint him as a cold-hearted and ruthless businessman who cannot connect with middle-class Americans.