TAMPA — As Republicans reshuffle their convention schedule ahead of Tropical Storm Isaac, a key question has emerged: Why pick a state in Hurricane Alley in peak hurricane season for an all-important nominating convention where visuals are everything?
Among the chattering classes, cable TV pundits and Republicans alike, one meme has emerged: It’s Michael Steele’s fault.
Steele, who helmed the Republican National Committee for two years before he was voted out in January 2011, said it was “ridiculous” to blame him for the selection of Tampa as the host city for Mitt Romney's coronation.
“These guys still want to pick over bones with me about the RNC — they didn’t like my style, but to blame the hurricane on me when they voted on it unanimously is amazing to me,” Steele said, noting that he doesn’t even have an invitation from the RNC to be in Tampa for the convention. “They sound like Barack Obama. Why is he always blaming Bush? Why are they always blaming me? Deal with it. The hand-wringing and fingerpointing is childish. They really need to grow up.”
Tampa got the final nod over Salt Lake City and Phoenix, two cities that the convention selection committee toured for a week, reviewing security, infrastructure and facilities.
Committee members came away unconvinced that Salt Lake City and Phoenix could come up with the $40 million needed upfront to put on a convention.
“We visited after the downturn and many cities were anxious because you have to get the banks and businesses on board to put up that kind of money,” said Cindy Costa, a South Carolina delegate who was on the selection committee. “We felt that Florida had great natural resources and they wanted us. The way that they took us through the city, it was far and above the other cites. You could tell that there was a very intentional effort to get us here.”
James Davis, spokesman for the convention, said there also were political calculations, acknowledging that “the state of Florida is a critical state in this election,” but that the facilities, infrastructure and enthusiasm put Tampa over the top.
“In Tampa Bay’s history, they have a history of hosting a lot of major events and doing so very successfully. They’ve hosted Super Bowls, men’s and women’s Final Four. . . . They’ve really hosted some spectacular events,” Davis said. “The convention is really the next step up for them, as far as size and scope. They’d been trying to host the convention for some time now.”
Tampa had bid to be the host city for the 2004 and 2008 conventions, only to be beat out by New York and St. Paul, Minn. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav forced convention planners to cancel the opening day of the gathering in St. Paul.
Some 50,000 delegates are expected to arrive here and even though the most severe weather will probably miss Tampa, planners are mindful of the potential impact in New Orleans, Alabama and Mississippi, which are likely to feel the brunt of the storm, and the specter of holding a celebratory event while other parts of the country are dealing with an emergency situation.
Steele said Republicans would still be able to have a successful convention, even with the severe weather.
“It’s not like we’ve never had to do this before,” Steele said. “McCain adjusted and adapted. Romney’s message doesn’t change because it’s raining outside.”