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GOP has a stormy history with hurricanes

By Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times –

TAMPA, Fla. — As Republicans bowed to Tropical Storm Isaac, canceling most of their convention opening night in deference, there was some hurricane history they might have recalled.

Or perhaps wished to forget.

Four years ago, Hurricane Gustav slammed into Louisiana, prompting Republicans to drastically curtail the first day’s session of their national convention in St. Paul, Minn. Instead of politicking, the day was devoted to fundraising and other relief efforts for storm victims.

In a replay Saturday, Tampa convention officials tossed out the schedule for Monday, save for gaveling open the event and immediately recessing until Tuesday. Although a direct hit on the Tampa Bay area was not expected, likely flooding and winds possibly exceeding 70 mph could make traveling through the region treacherous.

The cancellation was not the first time a force of nature swayed the country’s politics.

Just a few days after the GOP’s 1992 convention in Houston, Hurricane Andrew slammed into southern Florida and then the Louisiana coast, forcing the evacuation of more than 1 million people, leaving 250,000 homeless and causing $30 billion in property damage.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was widely criticized for its response — “Where in the hell is the cavalry on this one?” demanded one top Dade County, Fla., official — and, inevitably, much of the blame came to rest on the incumbent, President George H.W. Bush.

He won Florida against Democrat Bill Clinton in November, but the race was very close — after a Bush blowout in 1988 — and having Andrew as his unofficial running mate surely didn’t help the president in the Sunshine State.

Then, of course, there was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a disaster from which President George W. Bush never recovered. As CBS News reported, after Katrina devastated New Orleans and the federal government bungled its response, only 32 percent expressed a lot of confidence in Bush’s ability to handle a crisis, down from 64 percent just after the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks.

Bush’s overall job approval rating fell only slightly after Katrina, to 41 percent from 45 percent the month before. But his approval marks never again rose above 42 percent, and support for Bush’s handling of terrorism, the economy and Iraq also dropped.

The threat Isaac posed to the GOP gathering this year has led some Democrats to crow — everything is partisan these days — about their decisions to avoid placing their conventions at the peril of a natural disaster.

“We interviewed a lot of cities, Miami being one, but we decided that the risk of a hurricane was too great to hold a convention there,” one member of the party’s 2004 site selection committee said in an e-mail. That convention was held high and dry in Boston.

In 2008, Democrats chose Denver for their gathering, and this year, starting on Labor Day, the party faithful will meet in Charlotte, N.C. The last time the city suffered serious hurricane damage was in 1989, when Hurricane Hugo pounded the state.

Before that, the last hurricane to make such a direct hit on Charlotte was in August 1893.

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