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Convention organizers warn Republicans to behave while in Tampa

House Republicans are officially worried that lawmakers and staffers will stray off the straight-and-narrow path at the GOP convention in Tampa this month.

With a cellphone, anyone can be an opposition tracker, so members should be wary of doing anything questionable in public, Rep. Pete Sessions, the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, warned fellow Republicans at a Capitol Hill meeting Wednesday.

"Let's say you are going to have a cup of coffee. Perhaps it's a late night cup of coffee. Be careful," the Texas Republican said at a conference committee meeting, according to POLITICO, citing several sources who attended.

Such worries are nothing new — organizers of the 2004 convention in New York worried about delegates ending up in some of that city's seedier establishments, say some who attended. Sessions didn't offer any specifics about what he's concerned about in Tampa, and his office declined to elaborate.

But other Republicans said they believe party leadership is particularly worried this year, at least in part because of the prevalence of strip clubs in Tampa.

In addition to Sessions' warning, some House offices are planning to hold ethics briefings for staffers attending the conventions, according to several GOP aides. Individual offices will remind staffers that their behavior must be in line with their official duties, a GOP aide said.

Hill aides also expect there to be briefings more specific on which events are allowable under the Senate and House ethics rules, including if aides will be required to pay the fair market value for tickets.

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said he wasn't surprised.

"People get uptight about that stuff," Steele said. "The Romney campaign is going to want a convention that is going to be much more reflective of his style."

Steele knows firsthand how a scandal can cause issues for a political brand. He ultimately lost his bid for another term as head of the party committee after news reports revealed that the national committee paid for donors at a strip club.

Steele, who said he didn't want to "comment on anybody and their extracurricular activities," said if convention officials tried to stop strip clubs from doing business, it could lead to even more harmful stories.

"People have an opportunity to make some money, take advantage of all these visitors coming to Tampa for five days or more, and so I don't blame them for that," he added.

The issue of bad behavior at conventions isn't anything new. It's a perennial convention story as businesses look to take advantage of the influx of people.

Tom Wilson, former chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee, said that while nothing gets formally said, it's something organizers are always concerned about.

"I think there is a sensitivity to it, although if you are just a Joe Schmo delegate or guest, there's less vulnerability to be seen walking out (of a strip club)," Wilson said. "People who live in the public eye have a higher sensitivity. You ought to be just that much more discreet."

During his time in state party leadership, Wilson said they tried to "bombard" delegates with so much else going on that they wouldn't veer off from the official events.

"You give them reasons not to be somewhere else," Wilson said.

POLITICO and the Tampa Bay Times have partnered for the 2012 presidential election.

Convention organizers warn Republicans to behave while in Tampa 08/02/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 2, 2012 11:57pm]
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