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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Isaac Could Hit New Orleans; Isaac Soaks South Florida; Tampa Faces Tropical Storm Isaac; GOP Gears Up For Convention

Aired August 27, 2012 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The ghost of Katrina. Almost seven years ago to the day, a brand-new storm with the same path and the same timing barrels towards New Orleans.

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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane fears of a different kind haunting the GOP convention in Tampa. A major storm strike on the gulf coast could make celebrating Mitt Romney's nomination a bit awkward to say the least.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I am John Berman live in Tampa, Florida, which is the site of the Republican National Convention. I am sitting here in the CNN Grill, which is just a short walk away from the main stage on the floor of the convention.

This grill here is where so much will be happening this week for CNN. It's really one of the coolest locations here. We will be bringing you live updates all week from here, Zoraida. I'll have more from the grill in just a few minutes.

SAMBOLIN: It is a cool location. We're glad to have you there. I'm Zoraida Sambolin back in New York. It's 6 a.m. in the east.

So up first here, Tropical Storm Isaac, on the move and getting stronger. Forecasters expect Isaac to reach hurricane strength sometime today and make landfall tomorrow night or Wednesday along the gulf coast.

Thousands of people in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are being told to leave their homes. No mandatory evacuation order at this point for New Orleans, which is in the danger zone. Wednesday marks seven years since Hurricane Katrina and forecasters say Isaac is following a very similar path.

CNN's Rob Marciano is live in New Orleans. It's following a similar path. Is it as strong?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Definitely not. That's going to be our saving grace I think, Zoraida at this time, at this position, Katrina was well on its way to becoming a major hurricane and at one point Category 5 hurricane.

Isaac hasn't even reached hurricane status yet. It's still at 65 mile an hour winds. But when the 5:00 p.m. advisory came out yesterday afternoon from the National Hurricane Center, the forecast track at least, which was tracking just to the east of New Orleans, was early similar to Katrina.

As you mentioned, the timing of this is exactly the same as far as making a landfall early Wednesday morning seven years ago. That's when Katrina came through. So there you see the actual track of Katrina and the small dots there and then the current position of Isaac and its projected path.

Which actually today is becoming a little bit more gustaf like. That may be a similar storm we compare it to as well. All right, let's run down the numbers for you, 65-mile-per-hour winds with this storm.

It is 400 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and barrelling that way, but I'll tell you what, hurricane hunter aircrafts are in there right now. There's no indication that they are going to upgrade this any time too soon.

So we'll keep hoping for a very slow strengthening if at all. Here's the forecast track. We've been talking track. Anybody from Mobile Bay all the way to Lake Charles, Louisiana has to be wary of this storm.

The strength of it, we don't know how strong it's going to get. At one point, the forecast was for a Category 2 storm to come through. Now it's been downgraded somewhat to a Category 1 storm.

As you mentioned, there's no mandatory evacuations for New Orleans proper, St. Charles and part of Plaquemine's Parish. There have been some mandatory evacuation there because of low lying areas even a strong tropical storm or a weak hurricane would affect those people.

But the Army Corps of Engineers has done a ton of work since the catastrophe of Katrina. There you see some of the warnings and watches that have been posted. Some of which have been extended out to the west.

And make it seem to be extended out to the west towards the (inaudible) River before the day is done. Some video from when Katrina hit and the aftermath, the dramatic stuff of levees being broken now only along 17th Street canal, but along the industrial canal as well.

Choppers had to come out -- you remember this, it was horrible, horrible, frantic trying to plug the holes there. They've spent billions of dollars to beef up the levee system and pumping stations.

We're standing just outside one of those pumping stations that the Army Corp has built that's designed to extricate the water that can pile up in the bold that is New Orleans. And they are confident that this thing can hold up through Category 3 storm.

That's not the forecast yet and we certainly hope that it won't be. So we'll just have to continue to monitor the situation -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Rob, have you talked to any of the folks in the area because I was reading earlier, that the mayor there, Mitch Landrieu said I sense a high level of anxiety. Do you feel that?

MARCIANO: Yes , without a doubt. Even though it's not forecast to become a major hurricane like Katrina, when you do talk to people on the ground here, memories are still fresh.

And when you talk about the timing and the projected path, goodness, I don't even live here and I'm getting chills thinking about it. So yes, there is some level of anxiety and they'll take the storm very seriously if they have to.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, he was saying that hopefully it will raise the level of alertness also and people will heed warnings. Rob Marciano live for us. Thank you. We'll check in with you again.

So it is calm after the storm in South Florida this morning. Tropical Storm Isaac left its calling card in the Florida Keys, high winds there, heavy rain and a lot of flooding, but the area was largely spared by Isaac.

CNN's Jim Spellman live in Key West, Florida showing us around. Good morning to you.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Zoraida. Yes, they did an initial assessment after the rains really died down late yesterday afternoon and early evening. They found no significant damage.

You know, they did take it seriously. They tried to get as many visitors off the Keys as they could. They added extra flights to get people to fly out of Key West. They wanted everybody who is going to drive back up to Florida to do that the day before yesterday.

So when the storm came those roads were open for any last-minute evacuees and any sort of emergency vehicles to be able to get around. The locals, the people who live here and the people who run businesses have been through this drill many times. They are pretty prepared.

They have a lot of things like these premeasured pre-made storm shutters that they are able to put up. Everybody sort of bunkered down during the storm and emerging after it left. Very glad they didn't have the heavy damage they were concerned about if it picked up more strength and hit directly on Key West. That was really part of the track for much of yesterday, big sighs of relief when that didn't come to pass.

SAMBOLIN: We're quite happy for them. Jim Spellman live in Key West, Florida. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right, we are back here in Tampa where the wind and rain from Isaac started hitting last night. People have been walking in here to the CNN Grill a little bit damp and wind worn, but not so bad just yet. We want to hear more about the preparations and how things are going right now in Tampa. We have with us right now, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the mayor of Tampa.

He's been talking to us last week and this week about the preparation. How things are going and what are the latest? How do things stand right here?

MAYOR BOB BUCKHORN(D), TAMPA: Things are looking pretty good. It's a fast moving storm. We don't anticipate any storm surge. I mean, there will be some flooding in low lying areas, but for the most part, it is going to be a squirrely day today.

There will be some wind. There will be some rain, but I think tonight most of it will clear out and tomorrow is going to be great.

BERMAN: I mean, it's nasty out there. It's not the kind of day you want to be walking around in the streets. You've closed schools. The theme parks nearby are shut down.

BUCKHORN: Yes, it is, but we live with this. It means part of our DNA as a Floridian. We prepare for this. We trained it. We're ready for it.

BERMAN: Any regrets calling it off for tonight?

BUCKHORN: No, absolutely not. I think the RNC did the right thing. It was in the best interest of their delegates. It is risky coming across those bridges if you have sustained 40-mile-per-hour winds. I think they made the right decision. Delegates will stay indoors and hopefully spend a lot of money and they'll be back at it tomorrow.

BERMAN: I do want to ask you. This isn't your decision. This is the Republicans' decision, but they do face a tough one in the next few days because if the storm continues on its current track and say gets stronger than we think it might right now.

Say, a category -- strong Category 1 or 2 headed right for New Orleans. What kind of dilemma does that represent to the Republicans with maybe, you know, Paul Ryan or Chris Christie speaking right when that storm is hitting?

BUCKHORN: Well, it really is a challenge. I mean, they've got to get a nominee out of this process. So out of this event in Tampa has to come a nominee.

But at the same time they have a moral dilemma, in terms of if there's loss of life or if there is loss of property in New Orleans, what is it that they do?

Chairman Priebus, I don't envy him. I mean, it would be a tough decision. But I know they're going to have to move forward to get Governor Romney nominated so that this process can begin. I would not want to be in the chairman's shoes this week.

BERMAN: You know, I should tell everyone, Mayor, they are nonpartisan elections here in Tampa, but you are a Democrat.

BUCKHORN: I am.

BERMAN: And you'll be attending the Democratic National Convention as a delegate next week in Charlotte.

BUCKHORN: I will. But for the purposes of this, I'm agnostic.

BERMAN: And you want people to come here and spend money as you said?

BUCKHORN: Absolutely. We want to be the best host that the RNC has ever had and I want to be their favorite mayor. This to me is not a partisan event. It's an economic development opportunity and we've treated it just like that.

BERMAN: All right, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, I hope you have your umbrella because it is raining out there.

BUCKHORN: I do. Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Thanks so much for joining us. Thank you again for everything you've done for us over the last week.

All right, as we said, Tropical Storm Isaac right now is on an eerie track so reminiscent of Katrina's track seven years ago. Where will it make landfall? What will the political implications be? Stay with us. You're watching EARLY START live from Tampa.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I am John Berman live at the CNN Grill in Tampa for this week's Republican National Convention.

SAMBOLIN: We are going to check in with you shortly. It is 12 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

So first off, we're tracking the path of Tropical Storm Isaac. The storm is strengthening as it moves through the Gulf of Mexico packing sustained winds of 65 miles per hour per hour.

Isaac is expected to make landfall Tuesday, Wednesday as a hurricane possibly even a Category 2. Wednesday also marks seven years since Hurricane Katrina and Isaac is following a very similar track.

We're going to head back to John Berman. He is live in Tampa where Isaac has affected the RNC.

BERMAN: Well, that's right. They've canceled the events that were scheduled for tonight of the all they'll do is gavel in and gavel out here in Tampa.

The weather is rather nasty here. It's wet. It's windy. Still later this week Mitt Romney will make his nomination official. As the party's nominee, he will give his acceptance speech Thursday night barring any other schedule changes because things are complicated right now.

What if this storm strengthens and continues to head towards New Orleans there? What if it makes a direct hit? What are the challenges in terms of so-called optics.

I have two political experts here to talk with me about the challenges facing the Republican Party right now. CNN's Jessica Yellin is here, our chief White House correspondent, an old friend of mine, and new friend of mine, Ana Navarro, our Republican strategist here from Florida. This is your home state.

Let me ask both of you. Ana, let's talk about the optics here. They do face a tough decision the Republicans do if the storm is due to make a direct hit on New Orleans. Do they want to be speaking from the convention floor at the same time?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, it's a very tough thing. As we know in Florida and as we learned from Katrina, hurricane politics are very treacherous. They can make or break political careers. They can be a legacy to leave a good one or a bad one depending on response.

And I think it is very important that we are very sensitive to what people are going to be facing. Somewhere in America there are people that will have very difficult circumstances because of the hurricane.

I think as Republicans we need to tamp down the parties. We need to tamp down the convention. We need to be sensitive and need to have the people in New Orleans or Gulf Coast that are being affected first and foremost in our prayers and in our minds.

BERMAN: This does come at a cost. This convention not at all insignificant for Mitt Romney, this is the big rollout, introduction as a person, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's something they won't lose an opportunity to hit hard on, the Republican organizers, every time opportunity -- every opportunity they get. First, his wife, Ann Romney, and even some of his endorsers from the Mormon Church for the first time will reveal a little more about Romney's background.

I think as Gloria Borger shown in the documentary she did about Mitt Romney, you learn a lot more about him when you know his involvement there, his charitable activity there, and that's a kind of personal side of Mitt Romney that they want people to see, the Republican Party wants to see, and that the Obama campaign is calling the reinvention of Romney, an effort to improve his likability.

BERMAN: We have some fresh poll numbers from the issue of the economy, which so many people is the number one issue in this election right now. Mitt Romney does enjoy an advantage over President Obama on handling the economy, 50-46 right now. On the deficit, a much larger margin, 52 to 42.

On the issue of taxes, though, Barack Obama has a four-point lead. Why do you think that is, Ana? NAVARRO: You know, I think -- to be perfectly honest, I think the tax issue that Romney has faced and the tax question for not releasing the taxes, he's gotten pummeled by the Democrats for that issue. There's been all sorts of ads. There's been all sorts of attacks.

And I wouldn't be surprised that people are putting together the entire tax conversation surrounding Mitt Romney's taxes with the tax question.

BERMAN: Jess, is the White House pleased with how this has gone?

YELLIN: Well, it's that. Yes, and it's not just Mitt Romney's taxes. I would also argue that most Americans polling shows approve of an increase in the taxation on upper income's of Americans, which is the president's position. And so, that may also be reflected in this.

And there are also, the White House is pleased, that, you know, despite the fact Romney has had the advantage on the economy all along, the polling overall is fairly stable between the two.

BERMAN: Ana, I want to give you one last chance to vent here, because "Politico" is reporting that former Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, will be speaking at the Democratic convention next week. If that happens, what do you think of that?

NAVARRO: I think they are hitting the bottom of the barrel. Good riddance for Republicans. I think Charlie Crist is going to do for Republicans in Florida what Mitt Romney has had a hard time doing, which is rev us all up, unify us and get us really going to help Mitt Romney win Florida, because I can tell you, I think he is a radioactive figure within the Republican Party in Florida and nationally and people will be quite enthusiastic about the idea. Maybe even -- it's even now more appealing to beat Charlie Crist than it is to beat Barack Obama.

BERMAN: Tell us how you really feel, Ana.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: All right. Jessica Yellin and Ana Navarro, thank you so much for joining us. So glad you're here with us this week, at the CNN grill.

Now, coming up in about 20 minutes, we're going to take a closer look at the security at the Republican National Convention. There's a lot of it.

I'll be talking to Dan Bongino. He's a former Secret Service agent. He's worked in three presidential administrations. He's also a Republican candidate for Senate in the state of Maryland. So, a lot to discuss with him.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: We are looking forward to that. Thank you, John.

Tropical storm Isaac threatens New Orleans and threatens the GOP's convention schedule as well. It could also impact what you pay at the gas pumps. Christine Romans with more on that. That is headed your way next.

And for an expanded look at our top stories, just head to our blog CNN.com/EarlyStart.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm John Berman, live at the CNN grill in Tampa, Florida, the site of the Republican National Convention.

SAMBOLIN: We miss you here in New York, John. But we're happy you're there for us. We're going to check in with you in just a moment.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin here in New York. And we are minding your business this morning.

Oil and gas production already being suspended at some facilities in the Gulf of Mexico because of approaching storm. Christine Romans has new some details for us this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The energy industry has been here before. They see a storm track like that and they look at the heartland of gulf oil production and they start to close down production. So a quarter of oil production suspended. That comes down to about 333,000 barrels a day. Thirty-nine platforms evacuated already and eight rigs evacuated.

I want to show you what this region looks like, Zoraida. We told you it is the nerve center of American energy production. Take a look at the active platforms -- these are platforms, manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. There's some 600 manned platforms and many more -- quarter of knows have been suspended.

Now, I'm going to add for you the production facilities, the refiners, the places where we store oil and gas, chemical facilities.

SAMBOLIN: That's a bigger footprint.

ROMANS: That's a bigger footprint. Now, I'm going to layer on all of the pipelines so that you can see why I say this is a nerve center for oil and gas production in the United States. Also on there, along that area are emergency supplies, our Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Those are in salt caverns and big exterior huge stored facility along the path as well.

So, when you look at the storm track like Isaac's, that's why you see so many people concerned about what it's going to mean for oil and gas.

We'll be watching oil prices and I can tell you right now the first and foremost is the safety of the people that work in this industry. After that you wonder if you there will be any kind of gasoline supply disruptions because of this. Also, over the weekend, a huge refinery fire in Venezuela, a deadly refinery fire -- 41 people killed in Venezuela over the weekend, and a refinery fire.

That's refinery fire, that's another added complications to energy supplies right now in the United States.

SAMBOLIN: That's awful they had that kind of loss. Back here we see this every year when storm season happens. There's a pattern of closing down and gas prices going up.

ROMANS: They hope -- some years any hope they don't need this much of a production shutdown. I would say this most closely looks like Gustav from four years ago. Track looks a lot like it. Energy industry watching closely as well to see if this is what it's going to look like.

But this is -- you know, they tend to get out very quickly. They get back on those rigs very quickly and they start drilling quickly after the storm. There's the track right now.

SAMBOLIN: A well oiled machine, that's what Rob Marciano was saying. That was the first thing that they evacuated. So safety first. So, we're happy to hear that.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: And we know you're following the money for us, lady. So you'll come back with that.

ROMANS: You got it.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

ROMANS: You got it.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-four minutes past the hour.

Following the footsteps of hurricane Katrina, Isaac getting stronger and on course to slam the Gulf Coast -- the latest on the path and how close it could get to New Orleans.

Our iReporters are watching the storm as well. This from Brian Vaney (ph), showing palm trees bending. You know where this is? This is Miami Beach.

Thanks for sending those in.

You're watching EARLY START.

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SAMBOLIN: Seven years later, a fateful feeling of deja vu as tropical storm Isaac heads for New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU, NEW ORLEANS: If you called upon to leave, you should leave. We will not say it lightly. We have seen the results of people thinking that they somehow are stronger than storms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, it could be a tough call in Tampa with the Republicans wrestling with this scenario, what happens if a major hurricane hits New Orleans just before Mitt Romney's big convention speech this week?

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman, live in Tampa for this week's Republican National Convention.

You're looking at the CNN grill here -- a key location for CNN covering this huge week for Mitt Romney. I'll have more from here in just a few minutes.

SAMBOLIN: We are looking forward to it. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is 29 minutes past the hour.

First off, tropical storm Isaac, moving across the Gulf of Mexico this morning as it builds towards hurricane strength. Forecasters expect Isaac to slam ashore along the Gulf Coast late tomorrow or maybe even on Wednesday. Possibly, they're saying it's as a category 2 hurricane. New Orleans is bracing for the impact. Perhaps on Wednesday, which would be seven years to the day that hurricane Katrina devastated that city.

CNN's Rob Marciano is tracking all of this for us. He is live in New Orleans.

What can you tell us?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, there's no mandatory evacuations here yet because it's only forecast to be a category 1 or 2 storm at this point. Those plans are in place. The protocols are much more elaborate and concrete than they were seven years ago.

For instance, the elderly, they need to be evacuated. There's 17 zones where they actually go pick them up and bring them to a bus terminal and get them out of harm's way. And things like that.

So what we're looking at is a storm that we've been talking about eerily similar to Katrina, as far as the track. At least it was yesterday. The strength, obviously, is nothing like it. I mean, we're not even a hurricane yet here as far as Isaac is concerned.

Sixty-five-mile-per-hour winds. It's heading to the west-northwest at 14 miles per hour towards New Orleans. It's about 400 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi, a little bit farther than that to New Orleans, but obviously heading this week.

Here's the latest forecast track from the National Hurricane Center. They've been saying time and time again when they put these out with this storm uncertainty, especially in the later goings, extremely high, unusually high. They continue to say that.

Anybody from really Mobile Bay, all the way to Lake Charles, Louisiana, Beaumont, Texas, even, is under the threat of hurricane, potentially Isaac. They've knocked down the potential for this to a category one at landfall, but don't hold them to that. Once this thing develops an eye structure, then all bets are off as far as how hot the water is underneath the storm. It could explode into a beast with very little timing.

We are live outside the 17th Street canal here in New Orleans. One of the two canals, big large canals that had a breach in the levee systems that flooded the city seven years ago while the Army Corps of Engineers has certainly beefed this up, not only flood walls and storm levees but elaborate pumping mechanisms that gets the water from the city out back into Lake Pontchartrain.

And we hope to not have scenes like this seven years ago where levees being breached had to be plugged frantically by helicopters dropping sand bags. So, billions of dollars spent to beef it up. Unless this storm gets to a category 2 or 3 forecast, there won't be a mandatory evacuations here.

But people are taking it seriously, Zoraida. Lines at the gas stations last night, already many gas stations are without fuel for people who are gassed up and ready to go if they had to.

SAMBOLIN: They are taking this seriously. I know there's no mandatory evacuation but there's a state of emergency declared in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. So folks are taking heed. We'll check back in with you. Appreciate having you there.

So they hunkered down in the Florida Keys, expecting the worst from tropical storm Isaac. But when all was said and done, they were spared any significant damage.

CNN's Jim Spellman is live in Key West, Florida, for us this morning. You switched locations there, I see.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're right on the Duval Street. This is sort of the main drag in Key West. Yesterday afternoon when those winds picked up and the rain started it whipped from this way from the south part of the island straight down here.

They were really concerned with inland flooding. They didn't see that here. They did an assessment late afternoon, early evening here in the Keys and they didn't find significant damage.

The director of Florida's emergency management tells us they're going to do a more thorough investigation when the sun comes up today to see if they have other issues elsewhere in the state. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRYAN KOON, DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIV. OF EMERGENCY MGMT. (via telephone): Going to be with the southern Florida counties to find out any damage assessment, they may have suffered yesterday and now that we're at first light, our initial damage assessment from yesterday evening was good. Minimal damage and that things were getting back to normal as the storm passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SPELLMAN: They took it seriously here, getting prepared. They put up storm shutters. They evacuated as many people off of the Keys as they could and they encouraged everybody to stay inside.

They've done this a lot in the Keys. They know how to do it. They take it seriously, they feel that the preparations pay off. Got a little lucky this time as well, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, really good follow through for them there.

Jim Spellman live for us -- thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Here in Tampa, thousands of delegates, politicians and protesters throw in a tropical storm, what do you get? You get a security complicated mess at every level, changing every second.

What's it like to run something like this? We're going to talk to a former Secret Service agent about all of these complicating factors, from Mitt Romney on down, next. You're watching a special EARLY START, live from the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning, Miami. It is 83 degrees right now. A little bit later 85 and stormy. Looks a bit windy as well in your area as well.

Hopefully you'll have better weather than yesterday. We saw palm trees bending earlier.

Welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman live in Tampa, Florida, at the CNN grill on the site of the Republican National Convention.

It is raining this morning. It is windy. You put that on top of layers of security and let me tell you -- it is not an easy place to get around this week.

An estimated 50,000 visitors descending on Tampa for this convention which starts in full tomorrow. You add the pressure of tropical storm Isaac and thousands of activists and protesters from around the country and officials from the Secret Service, the National Guard and dozens of state and local agencies -- they have their work cut out for them.

One guy who knows a lot about this is Don Bongino. He's a former Secret Service agent who also happens to be a Republican candidate for Senate for the state of Maryland right now. First, I want to ask about the security complications because you've done conventions before with Secret Service.

DON BONGINO (R-MD), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: That's right. BERMAN: How big of a challenge is a convention?

BONGINO: Just enormous challenge. Just operationally, all the -- you have to deal with the state, local officials. You have to deal with the political concerns.

You know, the Secret Service is a very promiscuous job. It's not just security, unless we just put everyone in a fish bowl and walk them around. But plan A and B aren't good enough. You really need plan A through Z. It's very complicated.

BERMAN: The protesters now. We always talk -- it seems like every four years, we talk about the protesters who will be at the convention. By and large, they are kind of kept off site a little bit. It's not like they are sitting here right now holding p their banners and protesting.

I think we have a map right now to show where everything is located here in Tampa -- maybe not.

But let me just ask you in general. How much of a threat are the protesters and activists?

BONGINO: Well, protesting is the American way, your First Amendment right. But violent, disruptive protest is not. It can be very disruptive.

I remember New York getting caught up in a protest. I was doing some undercover work and got caught in a protest as well, and nearly got arrested myself. I had one of these extendible batons in my hand and police thought I was one of the protesters.

BERMAN: I think I might have been right there with you. I got banged up in 2004 --

BONGINO: It got pretty rough up there.

But you know, like I said, peaceful protest is your American right and we hope you do it.

BERMAN: Now, one of the complaints you hear, you hear it a lot from journalists unfortunately, because we do like to complain from time to time, is it's a mess. It's really hard to get around. It takes forever to get into the convention site.

As a secret service agent, how much do you care about complaints like that?

BONGINO: You do because you don't want people to leave with a bad taste in your mouth. I know from the management on down, it's always stress. But again, security is a very promiscuous job. It's not just about security. There are political concerns as well.

And that's understood. Or else they we would just be -- you know, your local security company with the swear badges on and we take that into consideration. BERMAN: Is there one big concern, you think?

BONGINO: I would say terrorism is always at the top. If you have a pyramid, at the top of that pyramid is always going to be terrorism, of course.

BERMAN: So, you know, you tell the press and people complaining, you know, just suck it up right now in terms of rain.

BONGINO: God forbid there's a mass casualty event. I mean, the whole -- all this concerns would be minimal.

BERMAN: Now, you're here in a much different capacity this time. You are the Republican nominee for Senate in the state of Maryland? What's your goal here this week in this convention?

BONGINO: We like to shake things up. We've run a outsider campaign. No one expected us to win. We beat nine other folks. It's been really -- it's been a whirlwind for us.

We had a lot of good media attention and we're here to capitalize on that, and get people to hear our story.

BERMAN: Mitt Romney, what do you need to see from him? Is he helping your candidacy in Maryland, by the way, or hurting it? Be honest, as a Democratic state.

BONGINO: I think he is helping because I think people are looking for an alternative. I don't think there's necessarily anti-President Obama sentiment in Maryland. There's just that we just need a new forward sentiment, and I think when he presents that this week, I think it's going to give us a platform to move forward as well.

BERMAN: Are you running with him, side by side? Do you think Mitt Romney will campaign for you in Maryland?

BONGINO: I don't think so. I think in Maryland, we're on our own. I think we're on our own. I'm OK with that. We've run an outsider campaign and we've really shaken up what I call the D.C. Nest.

BERMAN: You've got the endorsement of Sarah Palin stepped up for you.

Dan Bongino, thank you so much for joining us, giving us the Secret Service insight here what's it like to run a convention. It's great to see you.

If you want to know what it's really like to be on the inside of the convention, beyond the Secret Service angle, maybe the journalistic angle, you can join the CNN election roundtable. That's with Wolf Blitzer tomorrow. Submit your questions, get answers in real time, and a live virtual chat. That's the CNN election roundtable starting at 12:00 noon eastern.

You can be a part of it by logging on to CNN.com/roundtable.

If you want to learn more about the convention right away, Soledad O'Brien joins me and tells us what's on her --

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We got lots going on this morning.

Tropical storm Isaac, as you've been covering all morning is churning toward the Gulf Coast. It's expected to become stronger, to become a hurricane in a day or so. That means that the path is actually projected to hit the city of New Orleans at a category 1, maybe a category 2 storm around Wednesday -- Wednesday, of course, would be the seventh anniversary of hurricane Katrina.

We're monitoring all of this. We'll tell you how that city is preparing. Also how cities in Alabama and Mississippi are preparing. We're going to talk to Rob Marciano this morning. He's at the 17th Street Canal in New Orleans.

Also, we're going to talk to Richard Knapp of the National Hurricane Center. He'll update us as they release their updates every couple of hours.

Craig Fugate is back with us. He runs FEMA, of course.

Robert Latham runs Mississippi's Emergency Management Agency. He'll be with us talking about their preparations in that state.

And Ronald Surface runs the police department in New Orleans. He'll be our guest as well this morning.

And the big question for those folks here at the Republican convention kicking off today, excuse me, shortened schedule, literally 10 minutes long. What's that delay going to mean? It's coming because of hurricane Isaac.

We'll talk this morning with Tampa's mayor, Bob Buckhorn.

We'll talk to the former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Joe Klein will join us, from "Time" magazine, to talk about the political implications of the this major weather event and major political event coming together at the same time.

All of that and much more and start at the top of the hour at 7:00 Eastern Time. We'll see you then.

BERMAN: Really so much to talk this morning about from preparedness to politics right now. Both issues, no doubt, on Mitt Romney's mind and we're talking about a bounce. Will he get a bounce? From Mrs. Romney to Marco Rubio, what will help? Will he get the bounce he needs from the Republican National Convention?

Weather permitting, we're going to break down all the latest numbers. We're going to talk about likability and what he needs to do.

Stay with us. You're watching EARLY START, live from Tampa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: That is the city of Tampa right now. Trust me, the wind is blowing harder than it looks on that palm tree, and it is raining a lot harder than it looks like in that picture. People are watching into the studio completely soaked. The weather not particularly friendly here.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Tampa for the Republican National Convention. We are here at the CNN Grill.

SAMBOLIN: You know what, I've got to tell you, John, when we look at those pictures, we understand why they called off the first day, right, because those winds are a serious problem, I would imagine, when the tents are up trying to keep those in place. All right. We're going to check back in --

BERMAN: They certainly are.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. We're going to check back in with you in a moment. I'm Zoraida Sambolin here in New York. Welcome back to EARLY START. And we are tracking the path of tropical storm Isaac. The storm is strengthening as it moves through the Gulf of Mexico packing sustained winds of 65 miles an hour.

Isaac is expected to make landfall Tuesday or Wednesday as a hurricane possibly a Category 2 they're saying. Wednesday is also the seventh anniversary of hurricane Katrina. And Isaac is following a very similar track -- John.

BERMAN: We're here in Tampa, of course, at home base for the Republican National Convention where Mitt Romney will make his debut as the party's official nominee for president later this week. Weather permitting, some of the party's brightest stars will be speaking from Florida as well.

Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida, the candidate's own wife, Ann Romney, will take the stage to talk about the former Massachusetts governor and why he should be president of the United States. That's the question that everyone is asking right now and that's the sales pitch that the Romney team is making.

To break down some of the latest numbers, we're joined by Ron Brownstein, CNN political analyst and editorial director for the "National Journal." Ron, the first thing I want to ask you right now. You know, obviously, they put off the convention today. They're not doing anything other than gaveling in and gaveling out. But their decisions aren't over here as this storm heads towards New Orleans.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, absolutely. I mean, that is a very difficult choice. Certainly, it's hard to imagine with all of the history (ph) of the Republican Party with Katrina and President Bush that they can simply go ahead with an acceptance speech on Thursday night if at that time there is a very difficult hurricane in (INAUDIBLE).

Some ways, you know, the impact of the weather is already here. We are all in a split screen. You know, the convention, the modern convention, the role is to provide that spotlight for the nominee. It's already divided. It's going to be divided all week.

BERMAN: So, in a way, he doesn't have the spotlight right now that he wants, and this is why he needs the spotlight. We have a new poll here which talks about some personal characteristics of the candidates right now. And hopefully, I can show it to you right now. On the issues of who is most in touch with women, Barack Obama enjoys a very large lead, 60-31 percent.

On the issue of who cares most about people, 53 to 39 percent for President Obama and then in touch with the middle class, 53 percent to 39 percent.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BERMAN: These are the numbers that Mitt Romney wants to fix this week.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. I think that is the key task. I mean, look at the ABC/"Washington Post" poll today, like the CNN poll last week, like the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, this race is within reach for Mitt Romney and the Republicans largely because of economic disappointment (INAUDIBLE) with President Obama.

But Romney trails on a lot of these personal measures of connection and empathy. What's striking is that he leads on the question usually of who can revive the economy overall, trails on -- caring about people like me and the short version that pollsters think what people are saying is, they think that Romney probably is more skilled at getting the economy going in some macro sense.

But people are so dubious that he cares about and will deliver prosperity for people them like them, and that is certainly, I think, job one this week for him.

BERMAN: We have some fresh numbers on the economy, too. I should throw those up to you, on the economy, on Mitt Romney leads 50-46 percent right now. People prefer him over President Obama on the deficit. He's got a 10-point lead. However, on taxes, Barack Obama has a four-point lead. And I also have to say, the economy lead there for Mitt Romney isn't that big.

BROWNSTEIN: No. Look, I mean, this race like most presidential races involving and incumbent is first and foremost about the incumbent. It is mostly a referendum. But there is a choice element at the margin.

And what's happening is, as we talked about before, if you look at all of these numbers down, you boil them all down, there is somewhere like three, four, five percent of the electorate that is disappointed in President Obama's performance is probably ready to move in a different direction but isn't convinced that Mitt Romney really would reflect and defend the interests of people like them.

And those of the voters, I think, above all that Romney has to reassure, the instinct is to go harder against President Obama. I'm not sure that's his real task. His task is to convince them that he sees them, that he cares about people like them, and they haven't made that much progress on that --

BERMAN: We're going to hear a lot about Mitt Romney's biography this week (INAUDIBLE) of course (ph). One of the things that is part of his political biography is the Massachusetts healthcare plan. And he gave an answer which raised a lot of eyebrows this week about that. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With regards to women's healthcare, look, I'm the guy that was able to get healthcare for all of the women and men in my state. They're just talking about it at the federal level. We actually did something, and we did it without cutting Medicare and without raising taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Touting Romneycare. Winning (ph) issue for him?

BROWNSTEIN: Wow. Extraordinary. Well, look, I mean, he's past the primary. And it kind of makes sense in that way, but no, I mean, I think it is -- you know, he is walking such a tight rope on this all year, both kind of claiming credit for it and trying to distinguishing differences from the president's plan.

He didn't cut Medicare, because he's a governor. Governors can't cut Medicare. But, you know, he funded it largely with federal dollars. So, I think it is -- you know, he's kind of wavered on both sides. In the end, this is going to be first and foremost about the economy, though.

BERMAN: All right. Ron Brownstein, CNN political analyst, editorial director of the "National Journal," thank you for being here. We will see you here all week.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, John. As tropical storm Isaac barrels through the gulf, our iReporters have been tracking the storm as well. Check out this video. This is from Miami. More where that came from coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: You're looking at live pictures from Key West in Florida where that storm Isaac hit overnight. It looks a little bit sunnier there, brighter skies. It is 80 degrees. It will be 85 later. They'll see more wind, though, and some drizzling rain, but the worst of tropical storm Isaac is over for the Florida Keys now.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman. We are live in the CNN Grill this morning just a few feet away from the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York. Welcome back to EARLY START, and we're watching tropical storm Isaac this morning, and we're getting some of the best pictures and the best video from you guys on the front lines of the storm. So, check out these intense iReports from people who've already endured Isaac.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Whipping winds and practically no visibility. Take a look at that. This is AlleyCat 62 who says these conditions lasted for about 45 minutes. This is big pine key Florida.

And the rainfall was also intense in Ft. Lauderdale. FrankJGJR says palm trees and shrubs were pulled in the same direction as the worst of Isaac moved through. Somebody wanted to know in Ft. Lauderdale was in the clear now. The situation is much better this morning.

And to RaisedOverOnes (ph) sent us this view from their backyard. A bit further north, this is Delray Beach. They say they have never been through a hurricane. They call tropical storm Isaac quite scary and exciting. So, keep those pictures and videos coming, folks. Head to CNN.com/iReport to see all of these videos and then you can upload your own there as well.

Thanks for sending them in. Well, that's it for us on EARLY START.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): John Berman is in Tampa. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'BRien starts right now.