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GOP Organizers Say Storm Won't Dampen Convention
Originally published on Fri August 24, 2012 7:47 pm
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. After a year and a half of planning, officials in Tampa say they are ready for next week's Republican National Convention. The Tampa Bay Forum, known mostly as a hockey arena, has been transformed into a multimedia political venue. The city has spent some $50 million from a federal grant on security. Much of downtown is cordoned off, patrolled by some 3,500 police officers.
Perhaps the biggest wildcard, at this point, is the weather, but state local and party officials all say they're optimistic Tropical Storm Isaac won't ruin the convention. From Tampa, NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Isaac is still in the Caribbean, south of the Dominican Republic. Meteorologist say as it turns northwest, the tropical storm will head into the Gulf of Mexico, where it's likely to become a hurricane and its track keeps it close to the west coast of Florida and Tampa. Florida's Governor Rick Scott says current projections show Isaac passing hundreds of miles to the west of Tampa and unlikely to greatly affect the convention.
GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT: The delegates are coming down. They're going to have a great experience. They're going to see maybe a little bit of rain and a little bit of wind in Florida, but they're going to see how nice people are in Florida. We're going to have a great convention.
ALLEN: Scott says he spoke to Mitt Romney yesterday and updated him on the storm and the preparations. Emergency management officials here in Tampa say they've trained for exactly this scenario, a hurricane hitting the city during a convention. And if Isaac shifts its path east and heads toward Tampa as a hurricane, they say they won't hesitate to order an evacuation.
But today, that seemed unlikely, a relief to delegates and Republican officials like Matt Pinnell, the head of Oklahoma's GOP delegation.
MATT PINNELL: All of us delegates are hurricane and tropical storm experts now. My hotel room TV has not left The Weather Channel. You know, if something hits we're going to have rain, we may have some winds. We're well prepared for that.
ALLEN: Carolyn McLardy, another Republican delegate from Mutual, Oklahoma says she's been hearing from friends and relatives back home.
CAROLYN MCLARDY: Yes, I'm a little nervous. We don't usually get torrential rains in Oklahoma. We're really hoping that this hurricane will just track north and go take care of the drought that we've been having - Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, right on up there.
ALLEN: With worries lessening about the weather, Republicans can now turn their attention to the convention itself and the challenge of how best to showcase Mitt Romney and give him a boost in his drive to the presidency. RNC planners have been concerned about the possibility that delegates loyal to Texas Congressman Ron Paul might disrupt the nominating process. The planners added a video tribute to Ron Paul and moved the roll call up to Monday night, although they say that was the plan all along.
Ann Romney is still on the schedule to speak Monday, but that could change. Romney campaign strategist Russ Schriefer says it all depends on whether the TV networks carry through on plans not to offer primetime convention coverage that night.
RUSS SCHRIEFER: We're hoping, still optimistic, that the networks are going to change their mind and cover Monday night. We understand only covering three nights, but what we find puzzling is why everyone has to cover the same three nights.
ALLEN: Tampa officials say as many as 70,000 visitors may be in town over the next week, a number that includes delegates, support personnel, media and protestors.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTORS)
ALLEN: Earlier this month, Tampa police demonstrated some of the equipment and tactics they plan to employ if necessary to stop protestors from disrupting the convention. Protestors are planning a march and rally on Monday, the convention's opening day. There are reports now that the FBI is warning of possible action by anarchist extremists to disrupt things by shutting down Tampa bridges during the convention.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, although a Democrat, has been a big booster for the RNC, proud of his city and confident that it's ready of the convention. And he expects a big payoff between the federal money, money raised from corporate donors and delegate spending, the RNC's expected to pump $170 million in direct spending into Tampa's economy. Greg Allen, NPR News, Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.