The first day of the Republican National Convention has been postponed because Tropical Storm Isaac is bearing down on the site in Tampa, Florida.
“Our first priority is ensuring the safety of our delegates and guests, members of the media attending the RNC convention and citizens of the Tampa Bay area,” Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, told reporters on a conference call today. “Officials have predicted participants may encounter severe transportation difficulties due to sustained wind and rain.”
The convention will formally convene on Aug. 27 as scheduled and then immediately recess until Aug. 28.
Convention officials are looking into alternative housing for delegates, if needed, Priebus said. About 50,000 out-of-town visitors will be in the Tampa area because of the convention, including delegates, members of the media and protesters.
The decision to cancel was unanimous among members of the Republican National Committee and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, Priebus said. A revised convention program will be issued as early as tomorrow.
Priebus said among the greatest concerns about opening day was the fact that many of the delegates are dependent on causeway bridges in the area to get to Tampa’s downtown where the convention is being held.
“We’re not going to put delegates on a bunch of buses over the bridges between Clearwater and St. Pete, when we can’t predict how severe the wind is going to be and what the damage could possibly be,” he said.
Russ Schriefer, a senior Romney strategist, told reporters on the conference call that some of the remaining convention days may start early to handle the compressed schedule.
“We will absolutely be able to get our message out,” he said. “We think that we can absolutely do it in three days.”
As of tonight, the storm was moving along the coast of northeastern Cuba and was forecast to strengthen into a hurricane and make landfall in the Florida Keys tomorrow, according to the National Hurricane Center. Forecasts show Isaac entering the Gulf of Mexico tomorrow, sending rain and storm surges along Florida’s west coast, including Tampa Bay.
“We look forward to a great start on Tuesday and can think of no operational reason why that won’t happen,” Bill Harris, president and CEO of the convention, told reporters on the call.
Florida Governor Rick Scott canceled his convention-related activities, including his speech to delegates on Aug. 27. Scott said he spoke to Romney today about the storm’s possible impact on Florida, which may make landfall in the Keys tomorrow and again in the panhandle two days later.
Vice President Joe Biden, who planned to campaign in the Tampa area during the rivals’ convention, canceled earlier because of the storm.
“It is my duty to make sure we can quickly respond to the regions affected,” Scott said in a statement.