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Kansans heading to Tampa undeterred by storm threat

Republicans gathering for their party’s national convention in Florida insist they aren’t worried — even as a tropical storm named Isaac takes aim at Tampa, their host city.

“It’s a bright sunny day. The winds are calm,” said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, in the city Thursday for party meetings. “You wouldn’t know at this point that any foul weather is coming in.”

Kobach and 45,000 other convention attendees are expected to encounter foul weather Monday and Tuesday, the first two days of the Republican National Convention, although it isn’t clear how bad the weather will actually be.

Isaac is expected to reach hurricane force today.

By late Monday, as the first night of the convention comes to a close, some part of the storm is expected to cross Tampa, bringing heavy winds and dumping rain on the community.

Tens of thousands of convention attendees are flying into Tampa, beginning today.

Local, state, and convention officials said they’re working together to prepare for the storm, and for dealing with convention guests should there be extensive damage.

State officials “have assured us that they have the resources in place to respond to this storm should it make landfall,” said Bill Harris, president and CEO of the Republican National Convention, in a statement Thursday.

Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said from Tampa that party officials are discussing contingency plans, including a possible delay of Monday’s opening session or a re-arranged schedule for the week. In 2008, party officials canceled the first night of their St. Paul convention because of Hurricane Gustav, which threatened the Gulf Coast.

But the plans don’t include moving the convention to another city, Barker said.

“We might get a lot of rain, and might have to adjust the schedule,” he added.

Delegates from Kansas and Missouri will stay at hotels near the Tampa airport, which is some distance from the arena where they will nominate Mitt Romney for president. That vote is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

The convention has been designated as a “national security event,” which frees up funding for additional security and personnel. More than 1,500 Florida National Guard troops are moving into position over the weekend, as well as hundreds of local and state police officers.

Earlier, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said safety for convention attendees was paramount and that the meeting could be canceled if needed.

The timetable for decision-making isn’t clear.

Even if convention activities go forward as scheduled, delegates and others are likely to be inconvenienced by any significant rain and wind. The convention venue — the Tampa Bay Times Forum — is near the waterfront, as is the city’s convention center.

That means tides and heavy winds could cause flooded streets and power outages at just the time delegates try to clear security and enter the facilities.