Weather Woes

08.26.12

Security Meltdown at Republican Convention in Tampa

The Secret Service folds its tent—literally—as blocked roads and checkpoints make access difficult. Lauren Ashburn on the hurricane-related confusion in Tampa.

When I started counting, inside the perimeter of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the number of machine guns strapped to National Guard or Secret Service personnel totaled 28. All roads but one leading to the Forum—where networks are broadcasting Sunday morning shows—were barricaded, some with snowplow trucks, and the line of cars and trucks angling to make it through wrapped around two blocks. 

Ditching the car, it took an hour to make it inside through twisting paths marked by security fences and confused guards. And that was before making it to a dark, covered, leaky passageway featuring wet blue Astroturf. 

This is no way to run a convention, and it isn't even raining yet

The reason, according to Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chairman, is that the Secret Service insisted on closing its tents as Tropical Storm Isaac approached, reducing the number of entrance points to the convention center complex. And that produced mass confusion with journalists and others trying to make their hit times for live TV appearances. When the convention actually starts, this could mean endless headaches for everyone—not just the media—trying to get to their seats and work spaces.

"It's a lot easier being governor," says Rick Scott, Florida's chief executive. He told me the Secret Service escorts him right in, no security waning necessary.  Seemingly unruffled by the approaching storm, Scott told Priebus, "Let me know if you need any resources. We know how to do this."

When asked by a CNN makeup person how he was doing, Ron Brownstein, editorial director of National Journal who had to traverse the lengthy obstacle course outside, replied, "Debatable."

The more troubling news is the Secret Service decision not to allow umbrellas within the perimeter. 

"What are we going to do with all of these people standing out in the rain for long periods of time?" sighs an exasperated Preibus whose predecessor, former RNC chairman Michael Steele, told me he and a committee chose this locale  years ago. One of the deciding factors, he said, was research showing that a hurricane hadn't hit Tampa during the last week of August in 100 years.

Every convention has its bumps to be sure. When a hurricane struck Florida in 2008, the Republicans cancelled day one of their convention even though they were safely ensconced in Minneapolis. 

The big winners here are the pop up parking lot owners and the disposable rain poncho peddlers.