Isaac delays GOP convention, forces Gov. Scott to cancel


Published: Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 8:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 8:34 p.m.

With Tropical Storm Isaac expected to become a Category 2 hurricane as it skirts Florida's west coast, officials on Saturday delayed and shortened by a day the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Meantime, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday evening he was canceling his appearance at the convention.

Scott was scheduled to deliver a speech on Monday, the scheduled opening night of the four-day event leading to the nomination of Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate for president.

But at a 6 p.m. briefing at the Broward County Emergency Operations Center, Scott said the projection that Isaac could become a Category 2 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico led him to curtail his political activities and focus on his state duties.

"I'm going to withdraw from all of my RNC activities on Monday. I was honored to have the opportunity to give a speech at the convention, but I'm going to cancel my speech and all of my other RNC activities," Scott said.

Scott's decision came as the RNC announced it would revise its schedule, convening the convention briefly on Monday but then recessing until Tuesday, with the hope that the impact of the storm will have largely passed the area by then. The decision essentially shortens the four-day event into a three-day convention.

"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," party chairman Reince Priebus said in an emailed announcement.

Priebus added that forecasters have predicted that convention-goers "may encounter severe transportation difficulties due to sustained wind and rain" on Monday, when events had been scheduled to start in the afternoon.

Concern had grown about Isaac's potential impact on the political gathering after the storm's track shifted slightly east beginning Friday afternoon.

Just a day early, officials had appeared confident that the convention would not be disrupted by Isaac. But by late Saturday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center projected that Tampa Bay could experience a three- to five-foot storm surge as the center of Isaac passes the region.

Scott said he informed the RNC and the Romney campaign about his decision and talked to Romney at 12:30 p.m. about the state's preparations for handling the hurricane and the four-day convention.

Scott said the call on whether to change the convention's schedule was left to the RNC, although he said his goal was to provide the convention officials with all the information he could to allow them to make a "logical" decision.

Earlier in the day, saying Tropical Storm Isaac poses "a severe threat" to Florida, Scott declared a state of emergency, urging Floridians to prepare for a strike by a Category 1 hurricane by Sunday in the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida. At 6 p.m., Scott said Isaac would be either a very strong tropical storm or a Category 1 hurricane as it moves through the Keys Sunday.

In his morning briefing, Scott said the emergency declaration was a standard protocol for storm preparation, ensuring that the state could fully coordinate with federal and local authorities once the storm arrives.

Forecasts showing that Isaac was to largely miss Cuba, moving into warm open water sooner, allowing the storm to intensify, was "not positive for our state," Scott said.

The latest projection showed winds reaching 100 mph before hitting the Panhandle later this week.

Although the center of Isaac is projected to remain far out in the Gulf as it passes Tampa, the storm is likely to impact the site of the RNC with high wind, heavy rain, flooding, power outages and bridge closings.

Scott said officials from the RNC, the state, federal government, local government and the National Hurricane Center spent Saturday discussing those issues. He said he and his family would head to Tampa Saturday night, and he will give an assessment of Isaac's development at a briefing around noon Sunday at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center.

Originally, Scott had planned to take his family to Tampa Sunday to participate in the preliminary RNC activities.

"The most important thing that we focus on is the safety of all the citizens of Florida and everybody who is coming to our state, including the delegates to the Republican convention," Scott said.

Scott wasn't the only governor who was forced by Isaac to change his convention plans. Earlier in the day, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley canceled his appearance at the RNC, saying he would stay home to monitor his state, which likely also will be impacted by the storm.

Other Florida governors have had to deal with hurricanes and political conventions. Gov. Charlie Crist canceled his trip to the RNC in 2008 when another Gulf hurricane threatened the state. Gov. Jeb Bush did not attend the 2004 RNC in New York City, even though his brother was seeking the nomination for a second term, because of the threat of hurricanes.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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