TAMPA, Fla. -- With a hurricane potentially drawing a bead on the Republican convention city, GOP officials may soon face an agonizing choice: warn delegates and guests to stay away, cancel one or more sessions or wait nervously for Isaac to make up his mind.
Speculation around the convention site was that the first day or two of the convention was in serious danger of being scrapped. The opening night session, on Monday, isn’t going to be carried on broadcast television anyway, although Ann Romney, wife of the soon-to-be-official nominee, is scheduled to speak.
A decision could come as early as Friday, said one convention official who was not authorized to speak publicly.
At mid-day, convention Chief Executive William Harris said leaders there, along with the Romney campaign, were in “regular contact” with the National Weather Service, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and local officials in order to gauge the impact of the storm.
“Gov. Scott and local emergency officials have assured us that they have the resources in place to respond to this storm should it make landfall, as our primary concern is with those in the potential path of the storm,” Harris said. “We will continue to work closely with them and federal officials to monitor the storm and discuss any impact it might have on the Tampa area and the state of Florida. We continue to move forward with our planning and look forward to a successful convention.”
None of this is good news for Mitt Romney, whose campaign is eager to take advantage of all four convention days to polish his image, which ranks among the weakest of any presidential nominee. More voters have a negative impression of Romney than a positive one, according to national opinion surveys, and humanizing him is perhaps the convention’s most important goal.
Hurricanes are notoriously fickle, making the decision even more maddening for officials, particularly in light of the latest time line.
The storm is currently forecast to affect Tampa by late Sunday, the night before the convention’s scheduled opening session, with the worst weather expected Monday night into Tuesday. A gala opening party — for about 20,000 convention participants — is scheduled to take place Sunday evening at Tropicana Field, the indoor stadium in St. Petersburg, on the western side of Tampa Bay and, thus, closer to the current storm track.
Scott is holding twice-daily briefings to monitor the storm. The Associated Press reported that convention officials would make the decision about their activities. That could effectively mean that Romney, who isn’t expected to arrive until next week, will have the final say.
If the hurricane remains offshore, Tampa will be on the stronger side of the wind-field, which has the potential to spawn tornadoes, cause flooding (the convention site is low-lying and prone to floods), knock out power and snarl traffic.
Airlines, which have become increasingly weather-averse, could start canceling flights over the weekend, when thousands of delegates, journalists and convention guests are scheduled to arrive.
The most recent National Weather Service forecast shows Tropical Storm Isaac crossing Cuba on Sunday, then gaining hurricane strength as it enters the Gulf of Mexico early Monday. Weather specialists caution against drawing too many conclusions from each forecast run, but the projected track of the storm has drifted slightly westward.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the latest forecast is for a stronger storm than earlier expected when it reaches the area off the Florida coast where Tampa is located.
States of emergency by coastal governments in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area could be declared as early as Friday. Sandbags were already being distributed Thursday to local residents concerned about flooding.
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