The Republican National Convention is set to convene Monday but will immediately recess until sometime Tuesday afternoon because a massive tropical storm named Isaac is churning in the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
As a result, Minnesotans in Florida for the RNC are finding out what it's like to weather a tropical storm. As Isaac slowly approached Tampa Saturday, most of the Minnesota delegation let nothing come between them and the highlight of their trip to Florida --- a big rally honoring Texas Rep. and GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Campus police estimated that there were between 6,000 and 8,000 people at the Sun Dome. The Paul supporters listened to policy speeches and cheered on several musical acts. Then the place went nuts when Ron Paul finally took the stage nearly five hours into the rally.
Paul did not win enough states during the primaries to secure a speaking slot at the RNC, hence the Sun Dome gathering. He joked that the RNC offered him an hour of prime at its podium Monday night when the convention will be recessed because of the storm. He assailed the GOP establishment for new moves to take away the possibility that candidates popular in caucuses like himself can stack conventions with delegates.
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He said the party was making a mistake.
"Now wouldn't you think if there's a party that says, 'Oh we have an open tent, we want new people to come in. We want to appeal to the young people,' don't you think they would be begging and pleading that they come into the big tent," Paul said. "Well, we'll get into the tent. Believe me. Because we will become the tent."
Thirty-two of the 40 delegates Minnesota Republicans sent to Tampa came to Florida as Ron Paul supporters. Most of them were at the rally.
"We came here because we believe what they're saying right now," said John Kossett, of Vadnais Heights. "With the liberty, the freedom, getting out of wars, things like that. We believe in all of that. We think the Republican Party used to be that we want to get the Republican Party back to the roots there."
Kossett said he looked forward to voting for Paul and not Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination and he said he hoped a strong showing of support for Paul will send a message to the core of the Republican Party.
Kossett said if the Romney-Ryan ticket fails to embrace some of the things Ron Paul backers are calling for, he will not cast a ballot for the GOP ticket in the fall. He could vote for former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who will be on the Minnesota ballot as a Libertarian candidate for president.
Minnesota RNC delegate Marge Beard of Plymouth said she also hoped the presumptive GOP nominee would take a cue for the Paul movement. She said a pledge she took as she sought election as a national delegate requires her to support the GOP nominee. But she said that's not the case with most Ron Paul supporters, who might not vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket if they feel ignored. Beard said bringing in all Republicans could be critical to Romney's chance of defeating President Obama. Just look at how close the elections are, she said.
"The Ron Paul people nationwide represented at least the margin of victory nationwide, so Romney really needs to make sure he brings in all Republicans," she said.
Unlike so many other places around the Tampa area, there didn't appear to be a lot of talk about Isaac at the Sun Dome. Still, Beard said she and the other Minnesotans have the weather on their minds -- and they just don't know what to expect.
"We're not exactly experienced with how to prepare for these things. If we're in Minnesota, we know exactly what to do," Beard said. "You're also in a hotel [in Tampa], so you're a little limited and you don't have a car so you can't self-evacuate."
So like so many of the other RNC visitors to the Tampa area, the Minnesota delegates are trusting party leaders, who many of them disagree with on some many things, to make sure they're safe during the storm.
Forecasters are now predicting that Isaac will become a Category 1 hurricane as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico instead of a Category 2.