Despite wind and occasional rain showers from the fringes of Tropical Storm Isaac as it sheered westward, Republican delegates in Tampa on Monday were doing what delegates always do at national conventions: mingling, sipping coffee in hotel lobbies, re-connecting with old friends from other states, and going to the breakfasts and lunches arranged by their state parties.
At 7:30 Monday morning at the DoubleTree hotel near the airport, the Pennsylvania delegation sat down to eat breakfast and get cheer-leading speeches from Gov. Tom Corbett and state party chairman Rob Gleason.
“If Mitt Romney wins Pennsylvania, it’s over for Barack Obama,” Gleason assured them.
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Rob Gleason, Pa. state Republican Party chairman, attends the convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 27, 2012.
“You spent your own money to get in a car or get on a plane and fly down here and fly in, knowing that there was a storm coming, you all came anyhow, since you’re dedicated,” Corbett told the delegates, “Why? Because we believe ... we believe in America.”
He added, “We believe that America is built by us; built from the ground up -- by the small businesses, by the hard-working families.” And he contended, “One thing our country is not –- it is not built by government.”
Charlie Spano, a veteran Republican operative from Scranton, Pa., who is at the convention with his wife, Mary Rose McAndrew Spano, who is an alternate delegate, said that after the breakfast they’d head over to “Gingrich University” in downtown Tampa at the Hyatt, a kind of extended seminar and campaign messaging workshop featuring former House speaker Newt Gingrich and guests such as Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett addresses a breakfast meeting of his state's RNC delegation in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 27, 2012.
Spano has already seen a lot of the 2012 GOP campaign, serving as field operations director in New Hampshire for Herman Cain’s campaign and then, after Cain suspended his campaign, working for the Gingrich campaign.
Although he worked for Romney’s rivals, Spano said of the GOP nominee: “Mitt Romney is a very, very smart man who understands how to manage a large structure. His campaign was very well organized and very well disciplined – and if he puts half of that to work as president, he’s going to be a fantastic president.”
Sitting at the Pennsylvania breakfast, alternate delegate Lou Nudi, a salesman and manufacturer’s agent – he sells nuts, bolts, screws and machinery -- said, “I don’t know what they have planned for us” but said he might just “go to my room, get my laptop and do some work.”
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Lou Nudi, of Ross Township Pa., an alternate delegate attends the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 27, 2012.
Nudi said from his vantage point the economy “is terrible. The year started out well but in the last months it has tailed off.”
He said “good business management is all that’s needed” to heal the economy and “putting money in the right place.”
He noted that he served on his local school board, which had received money from the Obama stimulus program. “We were smart; our board used the money to buy non-recurring items” – technology and equipment – and not to add extra staff to the school system’s payroll. “Many school districts took the stimulus money, kept teachers on and didn’t need them, and now the money’s gone and now they’re faced with layoffs.”
Nudi said Romney’s message should be focused on the economy and jobs. “Get rid of the negatives and he’s got to tell us what he’s going to do.”
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At 8:15 there was a stampede of Pennsylvania delegates to the buses as they headed off to the aquarium for yet another breakfast, more speeches, and some mingling with the New Jersey and South Dakota delegations.
About two hours later at the Hyatt in downtown Tampa, Gingrich was delivering his opening speech at his four-day semester of Newt University, telling delegates how they had to frame the Republican message on Medicare.
“If you’re over 55, nothing in the Republican plan affects you – and Barack Obama has taken $716 billion from you,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
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Charlie Spano of Scranton, Pa., talks to a reporter at the Pennsylvania delegation's breakfast meeting in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 27, 2012.
He said Republicans needed to improve their messaging skills: “We tell the truth less effectively than Democrats lie” and he added, “Most of the elite media is not going to facilitate us making this case.”
As in Gingrich’s campaign speeches earlier this year, there were the now-familiar references to French historian Alexis De Tocqueville and to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
One delegate who was entering as Gingrich started his spiel was Don Rosenow from Clay Center, Kansas, a retired farmer who grew wheat and sorghum on 400 acres.
Rosenow said at the start of the campaign he’d leaned toward former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania but he noted that Santorum has released his delegates. By the time of the Kansas caucuses, “We supported Romney because we wanted someone who could beat the incumbent.”
If President Barack Obama wins on Nov. 6, Rosenow said, “The country will slide more into socialism and toward communism – a dependent society.”
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Don Rosenow attends the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 27, 2012.
Just across the hall at the Hyatt from Newt University were pollster Whit Ayres and former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, giving reporters a briefing on the new poll data from their group Resurgent Republic.
(Barbour is now back in Washington as lobbyist after two terms as governor of Mississippi.)
When a reporter asked Barbour whether Tropical Storm Isaac would disrupt Romney’s messaging, he said anyone from the Gulf Coast is concerned anytime there’s a hurricane.
“This does not look like it’s going to be a major storm,” he added, “We are concerned it has slowed down” and may pick up additional energy. But “I don’t think it will have any significant impact on the capacity for this (convention) to be a springboard for Romney and (Paul) Ryan,” he added. Everyone at the convention, he said, is worried about people in the Gulf Coast states who may be affected by the storm.
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He also noted that the convention is especially important to communicate to viewers who Romney really is.
“These conventions are always more important to the challenger” than to the incumbent president, he said. Americans already feel like they know the president.
But Americans, he said, don’t yet know much about Romney -- although “they’ve been told a bunch of terrible things about him: that he doesn’t care about people like you, that he ships jobs to China, that he’s a wealthy plutocrat and he’s married to a known equestrian.”
Earlier, emerging from a Mississippi delegation breakfast, Sen. Thad Cochran, R- Miss., said his focus Monday was mostly on what Isaac might do to his state.
“We’ll manage, we’ll recover, and we’ll keep going,” Cochran said. As for the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Cochran said, “FEMA’s on the ball they’re working hard.”
Asked if his state had learned lessons from Hurricane Katrina, Cochran said, “I was just talking to Haley Barbour. He kind of wrote the book on what to do in hurricanes ... Now with his friends up in Washington, he’s really good at pushing the right buttons and making sure that we get our share of federal assistance.”