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As Isaac churns up reminder of Gustav, GOP planners say they're ready

7:16 PM, Aug 25, 2012   |    comments
ST. PAUL, MN - SEPTEMBER 01: A television displays a weather map of Hurricane Gustav on day one of the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center on September 1, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The GOP will nominate U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as the Republican choice for U.S. President on the last day of the convention. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Four years ago Hurricane Gustav brought the first night of the Republican National Convention in land-locked St. Paul, Minnesota to a halt.

Today, RNC-goers are bracing for déjà vu all over again.

But as Tropical Storm Isaac rotates its way toward the Southeast coast of the United States - and possibly Tampa, Florida where the RNC is being held next week - Tampa's mayor insists the city is ready for whatever Isaac might bring.

MORE: Scott cancels his RNC activities

"I'm not really nervous at all. I feel like an athlete," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said on CNN's Early Start Wednesday. "You know, we've trained hard. We've been training for a year and a half."

MORE: Temporary structures, loose metal could create danger at RNC

Tampa will swell by 50,000 people during the RNC this year as delegates, high-profile party loyalists, media and politicians descend on the city which lies midway up the Florida panhandle on the state's Gulf coast.

A Weather Underground report says if the tropical storm strengthens to a category 4 hurricane and hits Tampa, the Convention center could be submerged in 20 feet of water. Even if Isaac becomes a category 1 hurricane, it could hamper the convention.

The mayor said the city is ready even if some of the convention sites lie in the middle of the evacuation zone. He said the city had 400 buses to move delegates to safety.

"We have contingency plan after contingency plan," Buckhorn said. "We are ready in the event that it happens. I don't think it's going to be a factor in this particular convention. But we are prepared in the event that it is."

And RNC organizers say they are "monitoring the situation closely."

"We are working closely with state, federal, and local officials and plan on putting on a great convention," said Republican National Convention spokesman Kyle Downey.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said his team was "closely tracking the potential for the storm to impact part or all of the state, including the Tampa Bay region during the Republican National Convention."

"Florida's state emergency management team and local emergency teams have been working closely with convention officials and have been planning for this event for more than a year, and the possibility of a hurricane hitting the convention has been part of that planning process," Scott continued in his statement.

As of Thursday, there is no certainty that Isaac will make an impact on the convention.

While Tampa lies within the National Weather Service's computer models, the "cone" or area that the storm could hit remains too wide to make an accurate assessment.

"[It will be] at least a couple more days until we can pinpoint what the exact track will be," said National Weather Service Spokesman Chris Vaccaro.

Still, the storm shouldn't be taken for granted.

"This is definitely a storm that needs to be watched but the jury's still out on its exact track," Vaccaro said.

In the event that the storm does head for Tampa, Buckhorn says the city is prepared to cancel the convention.

"Absolutely we're prepared to call it off," said Buckhorn. "I mean, human safety and human life trumps politics. I think the RNC recognizes that."

Concern with holding the RNC in Tampa smack in the middle of what has now been declared a "near- or above-normal Atlantic hurricane season" by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began in 2010 when the committee was choosing between Salt Lake City, Tampa and Phoenix.

"As much as this Floridian would like to see a good Florida convention again, the hurricane season beckons and seems to have placed a target on the sunshine state during that month," The Atlantic's Mark Ambider wrote. "Can the Republicans risk that? Probably not."

But Republicans chose the Sunshine State anyway.

At 8 a.m. ET Thursday, Isaac was about 210 miles east of Guadeloupe in the Leeward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph - a slight increase from earlier in the morning - and was moving west at 19 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Tropical storm warnings cover much of the Leeward Islands as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic, which means hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours.

Despite the storm brewing, one 2008 RNC organizer said plans for extreme weather at conventions are robust.

"From a contingency standpoint, convention organizers in both cities will be well prepared for just about every scenario," said Matt Burns, communications director for the 2008 GOP convention. "But when the folks in Tampa ask 'how's the weather,' it isn't quite the idle question it was a week ago."

The Florida Governor's office did not immediately return request for comment.

CNN

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