TAMPA, Fla. — As thousands of Republicans, press and protesters hunker down for at least a glancing blow from Tropical Storm Isaac, it’s not a bad time to ask: What were Republican National Convention organizers thinking? Why would they put their presidential nominating party in a low-lying convention center right during hurricane season?
Holly Hughes, a Republican National Committee member, told National Journal online two years ago that the group talked to weather experts before picking Tampa as the convention's host city. And the storm watchers told her it had been “nearly 100 years” since a hurricane had hit the city directly.
"Weather is always a concern," Hughes said back then, "but we don't think we're going to get hit with a hurricane."
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But probability is in the eye of the beholder. Another weather expert told National Journal back then that Tampa was “well overdue” for a hurricane. "They're due for a hurricane. They're due for a major hurricane,” said Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
Both parties looked to critical swing states when they chose the location for their 2012 conventions. When Democrats gather next week in Charlotte, N.C., they also will be well within the hurricane band, though farther inland.
Hurricane Hugo walloped Charlotte in September 1989, knocking out power to almost all of the city, uprooting thousands of trees and flooding the area with sewage when electrical pumps in treatment plants failed.
The politics of hurricanes have not been kind to Republicans. The party cancelled most events on Day One of their 2008 gathering as Hurricane Gustav walloped Louisiana. Though the convention was in St. Paul, Minn., the GOP and prospective nominee John McCain focused on fundraising and relief efforts rather than a day of politicking.
Some thought the Democrats were taking a weather risk in 2008 when they staged Barack Obama’s acceptance speech outdoors — at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. David Plouffe described in his book "The Audacity to Win" about consulting with meteorologists as Obama tried to decide whether to take the chance of soaking thousands of people, or having to scale back at the last minute.
The experts had done “a study of the last hundred August 28s at 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time," Plouffe wrote. "It had rained on only one occasion, and that was showers, not drenching rain. Colorado was usually bone-dry that time of year.”
Obama went for the big splash of the rare outdoor speech and his luck held. He got no rain and an ebullient crowd estimated at more than 80,000.
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Two years ago when the RNC planned the 2012 convention, organizers looked at two other finalists — Phoenix and Salt Lake City. Maybe they worried about too much heat or choosing the Utah location, which might have appeared to favor Mitt Romney, a favorite in the state where many shared his Mormon faith and glowingly recall his work as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele vehemently rejected responsibility for this week's weather snafu — which led to cancellation of all events on Monday, the opening day of the gathering. “I get blamed for everything apparently these days,” Steele told MSNBC. “I’m convenient. … We set this in motion two years ago. Like we could forecast the weather?”
Maybe not. But just for the record, Salt Lake City is looking pretty good for a party right now. Temperatures hovered in the mid-90s and are expected to remain there this week. There is only the barest threat of rain in the forecast.
Staff writers Mike Memoli and Melanie Mason contributed to this report.
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