Tampa sits in a low-lying area prone to flooding, with many bridges and causeways. Convention delegates might need to be evacuated from their hotels, many of which are on beaches in nearby Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Locals who are staffing the convention could face problems getting to work. And the convention site is within a block of the water.
“Our first priority is ensuring the safety of delegates, alternates, guests, members of the media attending the Republican National Convention, and citizens of the Tampa Bay area,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement Saturday evening.
“We’ll know on Monday how severe this tropical storm is,” Priebus told reporters on a conference call Saturday night. “We’re not going to put delegates on a bunch of buses over bridges . . . and we can’t predict how severe the wind is going to be.”
Even if Tampa is unscathed by Tuesday, Republican officials will have to make a decision about whether to proceed if Isaac stays on its current track and hits farther north on the Gulf Coast. The 2008 Republican convention, which was in Minneapolis, was postponed a day because of Hurricane Gustav.
Republicans also will have to contend with the diverted attention of the media and the public, who may tune into hurricane coverage instead of the convention.
Russ Schriefer, a senior strategist for presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign and who is overseeing the convention program, said officials were working to move Monday’s scheduled speakers onto programs for the following three days.
“We will absolutely be able to get our message out,” Schriefer told reporters Saturday night.
Monday’s theme was to be “We Can Do Better,” highlighting the country’s rising debt and lingering joblessness. Scheduled speakers included House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio), former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.).
Schriefer added that the roll-call vote that would make Romney’s nomination official, which was planned for Monday night, will now occur Tuesday.
Even before a final decision to delay the opening had been made, Romney advisers were rearranging the schedule for the week. Kyle Downey, spokesman for the convention, said the updated schedule should be released on Sunday afternoon.
The storm likely will come ashore in the U.S. sometime Tuesday, and the current track puts landfall in or near the Florida Panhandle. Convention officials plan to adapt as necessary the tone and tenor of the Tuesday sessions, depending on the severity.