TAMPA — Sen. Marco Rubio bounded onto the stage of the Cuban Club on Monday night, in a tie but no jacket, and issued his party manifesto.
“Any members of the press here tonight?” he asked. “Make sure you tell them Republicans know how to party — in English y en Espanol.” The crowd roared in approval.
After a brief moratorium — many events were canceled or postponed by Isaac — the skies cleared Monday night and the crowds surged to make up for lost time in the unofficial convention business: Schmoozing.
“This is the cream of the Republican crop, and they want to talk to each other,” explained former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, in town to do media for the Mitt Romney ticket.
We found Gilmore waiting to get inside the Cuban Club in Tampa’s historic Ybor City — a traditional Latin neighborhood — where the American Conservative Union and the Republican State Leadership Committee hosted “Nuestra Noche” with Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and hundreds of other young conservatives.
Or, to be precise, the ones lucky enough to make it inside.
Hundreds waited in lines that stretched around the block. In: A passel of clean-cut thirtysomethings, ushered through the door after a furtive huddle with an RNC official. (“Romney’s nephews,” we heard her whisper.) Out: Anyone conspicuously non-famous or burdened by a second-tier VIP pass. “They miscalculated this one big time,” sighed one aspiring partygoer, who gave up and headed to a local bar.
Gilmore hung out patiently (“I’ve never been the kind of person who pushes ahead”) and was finally ushered through the door just before Romney sons Tagg, Ben and Craig took the stage. Craig whipped up the crowd with some banter in proficient Spanish (we caught the phrase “Casa Blanca!”) before all three dove in to work the crowd. Hey, look who else made it inside: Geraldo Rivera! VIP or working press? When he ushered Craig Romney in front of his video camera, we had our answer.
Access and security are tight at this convention — not a lot of party crashers here. Big donors, of course, get in everywhere: There are dozens of exclusive, closed-to-the-press soirees for deep-pocket supporters. And even the larger swath of parties — some 100 or more scheduled for the next few days — have limited their guest lists to GOP insiders.
Even Monday’s bipartisan Spirits of Tampa reception at the Aquarium, hosted by the Distilled Spirits Council, took on political undertones. Bathed in blue light from the giant fish tanks, hundreds of Republicans sampled premium liquors as circling sharks and stingrays bumped up against the glass around them. If we find a better metaphor at a political gala, we’ll let you know.
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