CLEARWATER, Fla. — Virginia Republicans seemed to be sitting pretty in Florida, from their front-row seats in the GOP convention hall to their hotel on the Clearwater beach.
Then Tropical Storm Isaac threatened to crash the party, first as a hurricane and later as a flood. While the storm itself will keep everyone from the now-scrapped Monday session, any flooding that follows could be a double whammy for commonwealth delegates. They could find themselves stranded at that lovely waterfront hotel on the wrong side of Tampa Bay.
In a year when newly competitive Virginia has scored to-die-for seats at the Republican National Convention, its delegates could wind up watching the action from 25 miles away on their Marriott TVs.
Virginians were taking that possibility in stride Sunday, even as the weather turned from sunny blue skies in the morning to gray, rainy and very windy by afternoon.
“To me, it’s fine if we’re stuck watching it on Fox News and C-SPAN,” said Phil Griffin, 45, of Winchester.
Happy with the ticket and upbeat about its prospects in their swing state, delegates seemed determined not to let Isaac dampen their spirits.
But instead of lounging by the palm-shaded pool or strolling on the beach, many spent time stockpiling storm essentials in their hotel rooms.
“My wife and I grew up in Louisiana, so we are familiar with hurricanes,” said Morton Blackwell, 72, president of the conservative Leadership Institute in Arlington County. “We went out to a supermarket last night and got two gallons of water, nuts and raisins, a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of strawberry preserves.”
Other hurricane veterans had doubts that the storm would hit hard.
“I’m from New Orleans,” said Virginia state Del. L. Mark Dudenhefer (R-Stafford). “This is a baby hurricane.”
Griffin was not sure what to make of the dire forecast. So he went the when-in-Rome route, stopping by Wal-Mart to see what the locals were up to. What he saw led him to stock up on granola bars, Gatorade and water.
“People were buying gas cans,” he said. “People were buying water and ice, batteries. That told me from the local perspective that they thought this would hit and would be a serious hurricane.”
Others were making contingency entertainment plans.
“I’m thinking about going to see that movie ‘2016,’ ” said Jack Madaras, 80, a former surgeon who retired to Florida’s Sanibel Island but was part of the Virginia delegation as a non-voting guest. He was referring to the movie “2016: Obama’s America” by conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza.
“We win either way,” said John Robitaille, one of the more prominent members of the Rhode Island delegation, which is sharing the Marriott with the Virginians. “Either we get to go there, or we stay here and party.”
Robitaille, who narrowly lost a bid for governor in Rhode Island in 2010, felt confident that it would not come to that, though.
Quite a few Virginians agreed, suspecting that the storm warnings were overblown.
Once the bad weather clears out, they said, they expected to be able to cross the causeways and bridges connecting Clearwater to Tampa.
Some vacationers with no connection to the convention decided to bolt.
For them, it was a no-brainer: The National Weather Service says a hurricane could come your way — what are you going to do next?
Go to Disney World!
Salv Sorce, 43, of London was doing just that, leaving the Marriott a day early and heading inland to Orlando.
Ryan Thomas, 31, an accountant from McLean, was content to ride out the storm in the hotel — “There are things you can control in life and thing you can’t,” he said — but also determined to get to the action Tuesday. He wants to cheer on a ticket that he believes can fulfill the promise of entitlement programs such as Medicare while reworking their troubled financials.
We’ll grab some of the Jet Skis and get [to Tampa] that way,” he said.
Thomas was joking, but he couldn’t have gone that route if he had tried.
As the wind kicked up in the afternoon, the watercraft docked just outside the hotel were hurriedly moved off the water to shelter.