TAMPA, Fla. — Just as Republicans are preparing for their convention next week, so are the protesters.
And just like the Republicans are making contingency plans in case Tropical Storm Isaac brings heavy rain and wind to Tampa, the protesters are making plans of their own.
On Friday, a small group of demonstrators at an encampment west of downtown said the rain might curtail their numbers and the ability to carry giant, papier-mache political puppets, large signs and other props. All are virtually guaranteed to fall apart in the rain and wind that is expected to hit Tampa on Monday, the first day of the convention.
However, that doesn't mean Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan won't have crowds of demonstrators outside. Groups including Code Pink, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the AFL-CIO union and Planned Parenthood have already started arriving, regardless of the forecast. And die-hards have vowed to move ahead with their plans, rain or shine.
"We're no longer really considering indoor options. Some regular rain and wind won't stop us. They would have to be unsafe conditions to make us consider changing the plans," said Michael Long, of the Florida Consumer Action Network, which is organizing a protest for Sunday evening as the RNC holds its kickoff party at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
By mid-day Friday, it appeared that Isaac was tracking away from Florida's west coast and the Republican National Convention. It was forecast to pass the lower Florida Keys late Sunday night, then head northwest into the Gulf of Mexico. Meteorologists say that it could make landfall on Tuesday evening somewhere between the Florida Panhandle and southeastern Louisiana — although officials stress that the forecast is still unpredictable and that everyone from political delegates to full-time Gulf Coast residents should be prepared.
Florida officials have activated the state's Emergency Operations Center in response to Isaac. Still, Gov. Rick Scott said the event should proceed as planned.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said a decision was made long ago to hold the presidential nominating roll call on Monday night, rather than later. That had nothing to do with the weather — party leaders wanted "to get all our business done in one shot ... so we can keep plowing ahead on telling the Mitt Romney story" on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, he said.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said law enforcement will have a better grasp on how to deploy resources for the storm by Saturday or Sunday. She said that even if the storm brings only heavy rains to the city, "it may reduce the number of protesters."
"On the upside, it may also cool things down," she said. "The heat is one of our biggest worries."
Delegates will be inside or in air-conditioned shuttles — and most aren't that concerned with the protests.
Storm or no storm, New Hampshire delegate Phyllis Woods said the protests will be a minor distraction at most.
"We are not worried about the protesters," Woods said. "It's not even a blip on the radar screen for most of us."
Inclement weather may mean the protesters will be a younger, healthier crowd: Heavy winds, rain and even light street flooding could make things difficult for the elderly and disabled. And as Nathan Pim noted during a puppet-making workshop Friday under sunny skies in Tampa, soaked props could be rendered worthless. Nonetheless, Pim seemed undeterred.
"I could already see there being less people, but I think there's a lot of people who are determined to make a statement," said Pim, who is from Cape Coral, Fla.
Jared Hamil, with the Coalition to March on the RNC, said one of the week's largest planned events will take place on Monday afternoon.
"Rain or shine, we're still going to be there," he said. "The only thing that's going to change is perhaps how we dress. We'll be wearing ponchos and galoshes. We're still going to march."
Charles Babington and Brian Bakst contributed to this report.
Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush
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