TAMPA — Hunkered down in a tent wasn't the cushiest way to spend a night downtown, but at least it was dry.
As Tropical Storm Isaac soaked Tampa Bay Sunday night, a group of about 200 Republican National Convention protesters did their best to withstand the drenching, huddling in tents and under blue tarps next to the Army Navy Surplus Market on N Tampa Street.
By midnight, most of the activists, which included a contingent from Occupy Wall Street, had retreated inside the three dozen tents scattered around the muddy landscape. A half dozen others sat on plastic chairs huddled under a tarp, smoking cigarettes and talking deep into the morning.
"Yeah, we're doing all right," said John Penley, 60, of New York. "Most of us have been through this before. I just got back from a tent city in North Carolina."
Nearby, a tarp stretched between two buses created a makeshift kitchen. Also on site: a portable toilet and a shower behind the store. Some protesters stripped down to bathing suits to shower in the rain.
About 300 were expected to show up to the encampment, dubbed Romneyville. Organizers said many other activists waited out the storm at friends' homes, hostels or inside cars and buses. The site was organized by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign.
"Anywhere they can stay," said Penley, who helped lead the first Occupy Wall Street protests.
He said the group was planning an anti-Romney rally and march at 3 p.m. Their message: jobs, economic reform and cuts in military spending.
"Many returning vets are not getting the help they need," he said.
A few miles away, about 25 Occupy Tampa protesters crashed out in tents along a wall at Voice of Freedom Park, W Main Street and N Albany Avenue. The group was expected to rally at 10 a.m. at the park then march down Main Street toward downtown to meet other protesters.
"We're here because we want to make the world a better place," said Zoe Alif, 23, of Tampa, clad in a blue poncho. "Rain or shine, we'll be there."
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.