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Could Hurricane Isaac derail the GOP convention?

Tropical Storm Isaac gaining strength and is expected to become a hurricane Thursday as it churned through the Caribbean on a path that could have it hit Florida during next week's Republican convention. (HO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

It’s deja vu all over again: Four years ago, Hurricane Gustav threatened Republican National Convention plans. This year, it’s Hurricane Isaac.

The bad weather, still a tropical storm in the Atlantic, has convention planners and emergency officials tracking the weather closely and reviewing contingency plans in case it tracks toward Tampa, where the Republican convention begins on Monday.

For now, the storm is closing in on the Lesser Antilles, and forecasters expect that it will become a hurricane Thursday. Some of their models are predicting a hurricane path that could run through Florida early next week, but forecasters won’t know for a few days.

“There is still way too much uncertainty right now, and it’s too early to know what effect it could have in the U.S. and in Florida. It depends on how much time it spends on land in Cuba. We don’t know what kind of shape it will be in by the time it clears those islands,” said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

“There is no immediate threat to the U.S. at all, but it is a concern, and we would urge folks to pay attention to this thing,” Feltgen said. “Check in over the next few days, and if you don’t have a hurricane plan and pack in place, you might want to start doing that.”

In 2008, Hurricane Gustav, which hit the Louisiana coast, forced RNC planners to cancel some events at their convention in Minneapolis, including a speech from President George W. Bush, who had drawn criticism for his handling of Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans in 2005.

In Tampa this year, where some Republican delegates and officials are already gathered for pre-convention activities, the possibility of a hurricane was the subject of a good deal of worry and not a small amount of gallows humor.

Local news reports are filled with updates on the storm “bearing down on Florida just as Republican delegates come to town.”

And the city was hit by strong rain storms from Monday evening through Tuesday, a not uncommon summer occurrence but a reminder of how unpleasant the weather could make life for the 50,000 people expected for the convention next week.

The hurricane even came up at a news conference marking the conclusion of work by the committee drafting the party’s platform, where the panel’s chairman, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, was asked about RNC preparations in case a storm hits.

Having just emerged from hours seated at a dais in front of the 112-member committee in a darkened hotel ballroom, he looked briefly puzzled by the question. “If you want to talk to me about Miller-Bs or low pressure systems or derechos, I can talk to you about that,” he said, referring to storm systems that have hit Virginia in recent years. “This tropical storm, I’m not up to date on,” he said, as RNC staff shouted from the back of the room that the storm is under close watch.

Florida officials are closely tracking the system.

“Plans are in place to provide support for any type of situation, including severe weather. While a hurricane may be the greatest weather threat, seasonal severe thunderstorms and extreme heat are common in Florida, therefore residents and visitors are advised to pay attention to local weather warnings,” said Julie Kay Roberts, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

“Local, state and federal officials remain cognizant of the potential for tropical weather to impact Florida within the next two weeks. FDEM is confident in the planning by convention officials, local, state and federal partners to prepare for and respond accordingly to ensure the safety of all residents and visitors to Florida.”

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.
Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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