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GOP not worried about convention protests, weather

MITCH STACY, Associated Press
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September 4, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accepts the GOP nomination for U.S. President. ( Photo Credit: Getty Images)

September 4, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accepts the GOP nomination for U.S. President. ( Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Republican National Convention planners on Tuesday played down concerns about protests and potentially stormy or steamy weather as they provided the media with a glimpse of plans for next summer’s event.

The Aug. 27-30 convention, which will select the GOP presidential nominee, will be the first political convention in Florida since Miami Beach hosted both party conventions in 1972. The 2012 Republican convention will happen during Atlantic hurricane season, but if planners are overly concerned about a storm disrupting the party, they aren’t letting on.

“You always have contingencies for everything,” said convention CEO Bill Harris, who has participated in planning for 10 previous Republican party conventions. “But the weather is going to be great.”

Actually, history is on their side. The Tampa area hasn’t had a direct hit from a hurricane since 1921, although Hurricane Charley caused catastrophic damage when it slammed into Punta Gorda, 100 miles south, in August 2004.

Harris and other officials, including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, hosted more than 450 media members at the St. Pete Times Forum, the downtown Tampa hockey arena where the convention will take place. Priebus promised a “smooth, state-of-the-art, exciting” event.

Around 50,000 people are expected to come to the Tampa Bay area for the convention, including 5,000 to 6,000 delegates, 15,000 media members and possibly 10,000 protesters. Officials said it was too early to discuss the specifics of security plans, which may have to take into account larger-than-normal demonstrations spurred by the recent Occupy Wall Street movement. A small group of protesters has maintained a presence in a downtown park since October.

A “security perimeter” around the downtown arena will be established, but Harris said it was too early to determine the boundaries or how close to the venue the designated area for demonstrators would be located.

“The convention has been made a national security special even by the federal government, so the U.S. Secret Service is coordinating all the agencies down here together to come up with a security plan,” Harris said. “We have absolute confidence in their ability.”

High temperatures in the 90s in August will make it uncomfortable for extended strolls downtown. Planners said 1,000 feet of enclosed, air-conditioned walkway will link the St. Pete Times Forum and the convention center, where the media will work. Shuttles are expected to alleviate some of the expected traffic snarls that will result from many visitors staying in hotels across the bay in St. Petersburg, an area linked by three bridges that see daily rush-hour bottlenecks.

“This area knows how to put on premier events — Super Bowl, World Series, Final Four, Stanley Cup Finals,” Preibus said. “Tampa Bay is an exceptional host community, and we’re excited to be a partner with them and the entire area.”

At the last nominating conventions in Florida, in 1972, the Democrats nominated U.S. Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota for president and the Republicans nominated President Richard Nixon for a second term.

Next year’s Democratic National Convention is Sept. 3-6 in Charlotte, NC.

 Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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