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Delegates come for politics but find the malls on a rain-shortened first day

TAMPA — Convention delegates freed by a schedule change began an Isaac-drizzled Monday with a burning question: Where are the malls?

In Tampa, host committee volunteers gave out directions to WestShore Plaza and International Plaza.

"We're going to spend some money," said Jonathan Barnett, whose Arkansas delegation is staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in Ybor City. "We're going to help the local economy."

Malls, for some, meant movies. The anti-Obama documentary, 2016: Obama's America, was playing at AMC Westshore 14.

The 391-seat theater running it was almost full at 1:45 p.m. Monday. Ticket taker Charlie Perry said that's about double the usual weekday turnout.

"About 10 of us said we'd been wanting to see it, so we decided to come together," said Vicki Temple, 44, a delegate from McDonough, Ga. "Then we got here, and it's full of delegates. I saw people from Kansas, Mississippi, California and Nebraska."

Jacqueline Eastwood, 65, an alternate delegate from New Hampshire planned to see the movie and get a pedicure as well.

"On a bad rainy day, I'm sure I can find a slot," she said.

At International Plaza, four Oklahoma delegates decked out in red shirts and elephant jewelry were shoppers on a mission.

"We want to talk to you guys and encourage people to vote for Romney," said Debbie House, 60, of Stillwater, who was easily spotted in her sparkling flag earrings and an elephant pendant.

They were hoping to enhance their flair by trading elephant and state-shaped pins with other delegates they spotted at the mall.

Meanwhile, two West Virginia delegates were trading good-hearted barbs.

"He'll get the credit card smoking before we will," said state Rep. Bob Ashley, 59, about fellow delegate Mike Greer.

"He's a longtime state legislator feeding at the public trough," countered Greer, 73.

Ashley's wife, Anita, was contemplating buying a $69 denim jacket with a flag on the back at Urban Outfitters. It would be perfect for the convention, the fourth she has attended.

"I might just get it," the 55-year-old lawyer declared.

It seems too early to tell what impact conventioneers and their rainy day off will have on sales at the two malls.

"We're expecting some extra traffic this week, but it's also hard to tell with the (RNC) meetings and other activities," said Kristy Genna, WestShore Plaza spokeswoman. "We have a lot of great hotels around the mall within walking distance so that helps."

Discounts for several stores and restaurants at the mall were made available to conventioneers with a special card created by the host committee, she added.

IP spokeswoman Nina Mahoney noted that the shopping center is one of just 21 in the country that has a Neiman Marcus and a Nordstrom, so that could be a draw for folks in town for the RNC. The mall's 15 restaurants should also see a bump, she said.

Times staff writer Patty Ryan contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@tampabay.times.

Delegates come for politics but find the malls on a rain-shortened first day 08/27/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 27, 2012 9:54pm]
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