Delegates gathered for their storm-shortened meeting, making the best of a changing situation.
TAMPA, FLA. - Isaac was out there somewhere, an uninvited blowhard. The sky was dark, spitting and gusting, impatient for some serious storming. On TVs around town, radar showed a ragged mop of moisture swabbing its way north up the Florida peninsula.
Thus began the week of the Republican National Convention -- though it's not entirely clear when the gathering will start in earnest, or when it will end. Monday's a washout, and rumors have spread that Tuesday's events could be in political peril if a major hurricane slams the Gulf Coast to the north. Everyone could be here for a while.
Sunday had a sloppy feel to it. Delegates loitered in hotel lobbies, with plenty of delicious liquids to keep their spirits buoyed.
"We're pumped," said Judy Schwalbach, a delegate from Michigan, sipping champagne early Sunday afternoon in the lobby of the Embassy Suites.
"Everyone's getting into the festive mood," said superdelegate Saul Anuzis, ordering his second flute.
"We're from the U.P.!" Schwalbach said, referring to the Upper Peninsula. "You want to talk about weather? Come up to see a blizzard sometime!"
The show has to go on somehow, said Anuzis: "It's almost impossible to call a new convention at another time. We will complete our statutory requirements to nominate a president and vice president."
Chaos can be good, suggested Newt Gingrich, after he was serenaded by a barbershop quartet on Sunday morning at a baggage carousel at the Tampa airport.
"What it's going to do is force people to be flexible and allow people to relax and sort out what's going on," Gingrich said. One suggestion: They could attend "Newt U," a series of seminars at the downtown Hyatt.
"The less scripted it is, the more of a convention it feels like, instead of an infomercial," said Michael Morales, 34, of Medford, Mass., an attorney and delegate. "It'll be nice to have a convention."
In the lobby of the Marriott near the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the convention is being held, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu said the rain and wind wouldn't make any difference and most Americans wouldn't even notice it. He plans to spend his free day Monday doing interviews on Radio Row in the media center, repeating a well-honed set of talking points -- that Mitt Romney is a good family man who can fix problems.
Downtown, the delegates were arriving. The convention area was largely empty, patrolled by squadrons of police on bikes. There are security fences everywhere and concrete security barriers backed by dump trucks turned sideways and checkpoints. The people with the best access have stacks of credentials hanging from their necks. Tunnels lit by red, white and blue lights provide an air-conditioned path between some buildings. On Sunday, the mounting wind tugged at their tarpaulin sides.
This is a big event, bigger than a Super Bowl. There are 4,000 law-enforcement officers on the streets, not counting the National Guard and the Secret Service. The Tampa mayor, Bob Buckhorn, said the area anticipates 90,000 room-nights booked at hotels.
The combination of a convention and a tropical storm complicates his job, Buckhorn said, but he pointed out that his city has planned and trained for both kinds of events. Indeed, a big convention is kind of like a hurricane, he said. "It's akin to -- I don't want to say a natural disaster -- but a lot of the fundamentals are the same."
He anticipates disruption from protesters. He's ready for that too. He brought in 3,000 law enforcement officers from elsewhere in the state to help.