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Republicans in beachfront hotels brace for Isaac

(AP photo)
Oren Eshel boards up a storefront Saturday on Duval Street in Key West, Fla., in preparation for Tropical Storm Isaac. The storm's winds were expected to be felt in the Florida Keys by sunrise this morning.

TAMPA, Fla. – The beachfront hotels that a few lucky delegations scored for the Republican National Convention are all of a sudden a point of concern as Tropical Storm Isaac threatens to wreak havoc on Florida.

Weather forecasts were so severe that Mitt Romney and the GOP delayed the start of the convention until at least Tuesday. Officials said they were working out contingencies for those staying in areas that could be most vulnerable to high water and winds.

Word spread as delegates from across the country started to arrive by the planeload to nominate Romney as the GOP presidential candidate.

State delegation leaders, particularly those in hotels near the water, said they were working with limited information.

Stan Stein, North Dakota's Republican Party chairman, said he dispatched an aide to find out how to prepare emergency kits for the 65 to 70 people in his state's contingent staying at a hotel 200 yards off the water in Treasure Island. Some had yet to arrive and Stein said it wouldn't surprise him if some travelers stayed home.

"We do blizzards. We can handle them, but we're just going to go on the advice we're getting from hotel management on how to prepare for this," Stein said.

Ohio's GOP chairman, Bob Bennett, issued a statement titled "Safety First in Tampa" that said his staff was making safety preparations for his delegation and its guests as well. He didn't say exactly what preparations were under way.

California Republican Party Chairman Tom DelBeccaro was sitting at a table in the sand when he talked about the level of concern within his delegation about the encroaching storm.

"I don't think it's really set in," DelBeccaro said. "It's probably a wait-and-see thing."

The California delegation's hotel on St. Pete Beach is at sea level, but the group's rooms were on higher floors of the seven-story building.

Officials from states in Isaac's possible path were reassessing convention plans. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said he had decided not to attend, instead choosing to remain in his state to oversee hurricane preparations.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott canceled plans to be at the convention the first few days to prepare. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant delayed his trip to the convention because of uncertainty about how Mississippi might be affected by Isaac. He hasn't said if or when he will go to Tampa.

Another Mississippi delegate, State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, put her trip on hold so she could be ready to respond to a natural disaster back home.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the convention will convene briefly Monday and then immediately recess until Tuesday afternoon, when the storm is expected to have passed.

"We just don't want to put our delegates in danger, and we don't want to put people in Florida in danger by holding a convention at a time that they may need a little more than they would have normally needed, but for the weather," Priebus said.

Back at her high-rise hotel in Clearwater's Sand Key, Virginia Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Hayden Terry said the level of concern was low for now. Many delegates from her state had yet to get into town.

"I can't imagine there would be any problems with the hotel. I would think they would evacuate us with plenty of time if anything serious would happen," she said. "We haven't been given any reason to really be concerned."

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