Ron Darling helps load nets with balloons for Republican National Convention… (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated…)
TAMPA, Fla. — Republican officials started to exhale Friday as confidence grew that Tropical Storm Isaac won't shut down Mitt Romney's nominating convention next week.
The Tampa area isn't out of danger, however. Forecasters cautioned that the projected track could shift significantly after Isaac passes Cuba and heads into the Gulf of Mexico. Wind and rain from Isaac's outer reaches are expected to arrive late Sunday in the convention city, along with thousands of delegates and guests.
A tropical storm watch could be posted for the west coast of Florida this weekend. As much as 8 inches of rain could fall on already saturated ground in Tampa, potentially impeding travel to the convention arena, which sits in a low-lying area that floods easily. However, the storm's projected course appears to be far enough to the west to keep the worst of Isaac away from the city.
"I'm feeling a lot better today than I was yesterday," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who along with other party leaders is receiving regular briefings on the storm's progress. "Obviously, we worry a little bit about if this thing turns into a hurricane, and the safety of people if it hits the shore. But as far as the convention is concerned, it's full steam ahead."
Among the contingencies that convention planners made in the region prone to daily summer downpours, not to mention the occasional tropical storm, are 13,000 umbrellas that will be made available to conventioneers. Security rules prohibit umbrellas inside the immediate convention area, so attendees will have to deposit the loaner umbrellas in bins at security checkpoints and pick up another when they leave.
The latest forecast shows Isaac reaching hurricane strength as it churns through the Gulf of Mexico west of Tampa before making landfall later Tuesday on the Florida Panhandle. The National Hurricane Center, in a forecast issued late Friday afternoon, nudged the storm's projected course back toward Florida's west coast, but still showed Isaac well offshore of the Tampa Bay area.
Thousands of delegates and guests being housed at coastal hotels along the gulf could experience tropical storm conditions as soon as Monday, the beginning of the four-day convention. But echoing Floridians and party officials, California delegates arriving at their balmy beachfront resort in St. Pete Beach seemed largely unconcerned.
"I'm getting calls from people at home, 'Oh my gosh! What are you going to do?'" said Anthony Kuo, an alternate delegate from Irvine and a city planning commissioner. "All the locals are like, 'Don't even worry about it.'"
Kuo, 29, added, "My main concern has been my hair. I don't know what to do with high humidity and rain."
Four years ago, the first night of the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., was cut short to redirect attention toward preparations for an approaching hurricane in the gulf, a thousand miles away.
On opening night Monday, organizers will have to deal not only with the weather, but also with the refusal of the major broadcast TV networks to carry the proceedings.
That night, the delegates are to go through the formality of nominating the former Massachusetts governor. The roll call of the states is scripted to take Romney over the top around 6:40 p.m., or about 10 minutes into the network TV newscasts.
The GOP nominee's wife, Ann Romney, had been scheduled to speak Monday night, but her slot was shifted to Tuesday night, officials said Friday.
A smoothly running delegate count was ensured Friday when the RNC approved a strong-arm effort by the Romney campaign to block Ron Paul delegates from placing their candidate's name in nomination. As part of that effort, 10 Paul delegates from Maine were replaced by 10 likely Romney supporters. Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage criticized the decision and announced that he would skip the convention.
In what looked like an effort to offer symbolic consolation to Paul's supporters, the Romney campaign announced that a short video paying tribute to the retiring Texas congressman would be shown Tuesday night. Paul's son and presumed heir, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, has been granted a convention speaking slot, but Rep. Paul himself has not.