GOP delegates begin to arrive

TAMPA — The delegates from Hawaii brought 400 purple orchid blossoms. The congressman from Arkansas packed his Razorbacks necktie. The mayor of Tower City, Pa., wore a hat touting his hometown beer.

Christine Heimburger of Humble, Texas, lugged around a quilt, handmade for presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

They showed up in Tampa on Saturday with the things — and thoughts — that matter to them.

"We are 50 states," said the quiltmaker, who also donned a Lone Star apron. "We are millions of people, coming together with a single purpose of saving America."

With the threat of a possible hurricane looming in the Gulf of Mexico, planeloads of Republicans touched down at Tampa International Airport. They learned by nightfall that the storm would put their enthusiasm on hold for a day, canceling Monday's convention sessions at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Big deal.

"Hurricanes are kind of second nature," said Gary Harkins, 70, of Brandon, Miss., who wore a lapel pin in the shape of his state.

"We're going to get wet, but it's not going to dampen our fun," said Dan Daub, 46, the Pennsylvania mayor with a cowboy hat crafted from a Yuengling beer box.

Visitors found a city that hoped to make up for puddles.

A crystal elephant reared its head at the airport's Swarovski Crystal shop. The bookstore displayed Romney titles. Steel drums and an accordion player made it a party.

"Jazz is universal," said drummer Eddie Graham, 74, of Port Richey. He voted for Barack Obama and plans to do so again, but his Dixieland band did a three-hour set for Republicans at the airport.

Volunteers were everywhere. So were politicians. And men in dark suits with wires behind their ears.

Spotted in baggage claim: Former presidential candidate Herman Cain, former California Gov. Pete Wilson, political consultant Karl Rove, CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Rove shot a glance at a pair of stars and stripes boots, on the heels of Don Genhart, 77, of Palm Desert, Calif.

"I'm a patriot and a strong Republican," Genhart declared.

"Those are strong boots," Rove said.

• • •

Here's what else they brought:

"A sense of unity," Cain said.

"The Mitt Romney enthusiasm," said Bruce Williamson, a legislator from Monroe, Ga.

"Enthusiasm, conservatism, common sense and patriotism," said Dana Stringer, 57, of Brandon, Miss.

"A nice gentle flow," said county clerk Robert Christman, of Allegany County, N.Y. "We're calm, cool and collected."

• • •

They were late sleepers, the delegates. Host committee volunteers took their airport posts before 8 a.m., then waited for a chance to be friendly.

The first flood of visitors was expected by 11, someone noted.

"Can we not use that term 'flood'?" said volunteer Helen Tyler, 56, of St. Petersburg.

By 10 a.m., the steel drums began to play, set up between shuttles.

Volunteers shimmied as the shuttle doors swooshed open.

"Welcome to Tampa Bay!"

• • •

Quiltmaker Heimburger, 56, and her husband arrived Friday night but slept at the airport hotel. They drew a crowd in the morning when they unfolded a king-sized red, white and blue quilt, a month's work. On it are state names, with stars representing the armed forces and room for 1,500 messages.

The Romneys have signed. So has Sen. John McCain.

"The idea is to give people who wouldn't be able to meet the Romneys a chance to share their support," said Heimburger, a retired flight attendant.

• • •

Andy Deering, 46, wore shorts, socks, sandals, and an "Alaska" T-shirt with a Ron Paul 2012 pin. He's one of six official national Ron Paul delegates.

He spent a day and a half traveling from the Alaskan town of Craig, where he lives on a 37-foot sailboat, the Indefatigable, which he built himself. To get here, he drove 40 miles across an island, took a ferry to Ketchikan and then a puddle jumper to Anchorage to catch a flight to Chicago.

He remains an ardent supporter of Paul.

"I figured if I wasn't able to stick with him to the end," he said, "who would?"

• • •

Tampa Bay area hotels wanted the guests to feel at home.

A Mexican restaurant at one hotel switched to Southern food for Alabama's delegation.

Workers at another hotel wore "I love Ohio" buttons.

Tennessee's flag flew at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, and the city temporarily renamed Main Street "Tennessee Street."

Cindy Moyle of Idaho wound up at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater in Pinellas Park.

"It's so different from Idaho," she said.

She noticed the humidity.

Ah, yes, the humidity.

Times staff writers Liz Behrman, Will Hobson, Lee Logan, Tony Marrero, Erin Sullivan and Stephanie Wang contributed to this report.

GOP delegates begin to arrive 08/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 11:11pm]

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