Tropical Storm Isaac churned toward the northern Gulf Coast early Monday and promised to give the Republican National Convention a good drenching after lashing the Florida Keys with wind and rain but apparently causing little damage.
The National Hurricane Center predicted Isaac would grow to a hurricane over the warm Gulf of Mexico and possibly hit late Tuesday somewhere along a stretch that starts west of New Orleans and runs to the edge of the Florida Panhandle. That would be one day shy of seven years after Hurricane Katrina struck catastrophically in 2005.
Isaac Getting a Little Better Organized, SoFla Schools Closed Monday
Republicans staged a subdued opening to their convention Monday, gaveling the gathering to order and then recessing it a short time later. The 2012 GOP convention will now have to cram four days of events into three with hopes for a major sendoff for presumptive nominee Mitt Romney on Thursday.
Flooding prompted the brief closure of several main roads in Tampa early Monday including, three near downtown where the convention was to be held.
On Saturday, Republican officials announced they would be scrapping the first day of the convention, saying they would open it Monday but delay events until Tuesday. Gov. Rick Scott had also announced he was withdrawing from all convention activities on Monday due to Isaac.
"It is what it is," said Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, up early to tell the Monday morning talk shows that despite the storm and the compressed schedule, the GOP still can present a compelling argument for Romney.
"Obviously we want to pray for anyone that's in the pathway of this storm," Priebus said on NBC's "Today" show, "but the message is still the same: that all Americans deserve a better future and that this president ... didn't keep the promises he made in 2008."
Romney will arrive in Tampa by Tuesday night, when his wife, Ann, is one of the speakers set to address the convention.
"Our thoughts are with the people that are in the storm's path and hope that they're spared any major destruction," Romney said.
As of 11 p.m. Monday, Isaac maximum sustained winds of 70 mph as it moved northwest at 10 mph about 255 miles south-southeast of Biloxi, Mississippi and 190 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said they expected to become a hurricane Monday night or early Tuesday.
A hurricane warning was in effect for an area that covers a roughly 300-mile stretch of the Gulf Coast in four states from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle. Tropical storm warnings were effect for a section of Louisiana's Gulf Coast from Morgan City to Intracoastal City. Tropical storm warnings were also in effect for many areas along Florida's Gulf Coast.
Even though the storm was moving well west of Tampa, tropical storm-force winds and heavy rains were possible in the area because of Isaac's large size, forecasters said. A small group of protesters braved rainy weather Sunday and vowed to continue despite the weather.
Tampa Mayor Bill Buckhorn, a Democrat, said the weather would be "squirrely" but predicted the storm would not unduly interfere with the convention.
"We're going to show the world on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday what a great place this is," he said. "As a state and a city, we're going to put on a good show and be a great host for the Republican Party."