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August 26, 2012

Republicans Descend on Tampa, Florida

by Suzanne Presto

The thousands of Republican Party members descending on the city of Tampa are joined by an unwanted visitor - a tropical storm that threatens to reach hurricane strength.

This week, Republicans will nominate a former state governor, Mitt Romney, as their candidate for U.S. president at the Republican National Convention. The party chose to hold its convention in Florida, a hurricane-prone southeastern state that most analysts say Romney must win if he is to defeat President Barack Obama in November.

Barbara Denti Pool is decorating the historic Italian Club of Tampa with red elephants, the color and symbol of the Republican Party.

“We're thrilled, absolutely thrilled, to have everyone here,” she said.

Denti Pool says Republican candidate Mitt Romney is the best choice to help the economy rebound.

“We all want a good, honest life, and we want to prosper like we saw our immigrant parents and grandparents [do]. They built this town,” she said.

“This town” is Tampa, Florida, known for its water views, sultry climate and, for these few weeks, elephants aplenty.

“For somebody who is really into politics, we've got the elephant,” said Jon Brovold, who sells assorted Republican-themed souvenirs near the site of the Republican National Convention.

“We've got Mitt Romney here, the puppet, and this has been very popular,” he said.

But former Massachusetts governor Romney isn't popular with everyone. Rallies against the Republican candidate are planned here.

Florida is known as a “swing state” because neither political party can count on winning over its voters in the American state-by-state winner-take-all system. In 2008, Florida’s electoral bounty went to Democratic President Barack Obama. In 2004, it went to Republican George W. Bush.

It's also impossible to rely on the weather in the so-called Sunshine State. Tropical Storm Isaac approached Florida, forcing airlines to cancel flights and the Republican Party to delay the start of the convention.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Saturday.

"I've made the decision based on the fact that we know we are going to have a very strong tropical storm and possibly a hurricane - I'm going to withdraw from all our RNC [Republican National Committee] activities on Monday,” he said.

In Tampa's Latin Quarter, Ybor City, Cuban heritage is served up with fried plantains and Cuban sandwiches at Gaspar’s Grotto. Nearly a quarter of Florida's residents are of Hispanic origin, and the Republicans need their votes. Romney campaigned in Miami, Florida, earlier this month with his son, Craig.

Long before Romney secured the Republican nomination and chose Paul Ryan to be his vice presidential running mate, the Republican party picked Tampa to be the site of its convention.

“Initially, I thought it was a smart move. It's an obvious swing state. It's a way to appeal to Latino voters," said Professor Jennifer Lawless, who teaches politics at American University in Washington D.C.  "But now I think they also have a lot of making up to do because they need to demonstrate to the Florida voters that a Romney/Ryan administration would not ultimately throw seniors off a cliff.”

Ryan wants to make controversial changes to Medicare, the government healthcare plan for elderly Americans, which is sure to be a big issue in a state whose warm climate makes it a favorite place for retirees.

The convention, held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, runs until August 30.