TAMPA — Tampa's chief competitors to host the 2012 Republican National Convention were Phoenix and Salt Lake City. The empyrean western valleys in which those cities were settled see summer days of dry heat that fade at sundown to pleasantly warm nights.
Instead, the Republican National Committee's site selection committee chose Tampa, a metropolitan steam-room whose subtle charms are sometimes hard to detect beneath a shimmer of radiant heat. At its darkest, coldest hour, a summer night on Florida's Gulf Coast remains about as refreshing as a sponge soaked in warm dishwater.
The Republicans knew, or should have known, what they were getting into — as well as the reporters and protesters who followed them to Tampa this week. Yet by Tuesday, those gathered here began to show fatigue with this city's predictably atrocious August weather.
"It's just kind of like menopause," said Christine Hill, a 61-year-old GOP delegate from Anchorage, Alaska, comparing Florida's weather to the hot flashes that mark the end of a woman's child-bearing years. "You just go with it."
After the storm called Isaac had definitively bypassed Tampa Bay by Tuesday — reaching hurricane strength and heading for Louisiana — the area returned to its climatic status quo: daytime temperatures hovering around 90 degrees, with a heat index north of 100 once humidity is factored in.
Scott Smith, mayor of Mesa, Ariz., took to Twitter on Tuesday afternoon to lament his need to travel a short distance outside on foot. "Just walked 6 blocks," Smith wrote. "My shirt is soaked with sweat and my hair went curly." He added that he would "take AZ dry heat any day."
When your weather compares unfavorably to that of Arizona in August, you have a problem.
Cops sweated in their riot gear. Protesters, when they weren't busy videotaping the sweating cops and chanting about capitalism, sought the shade. Several young women removed their shirts, marching in their bras. Ron Paul supporters, stubbornly present and preoccupied with the gold standard, appeared somehow unfazed.
"Hurricane Isaac is nothing," said Paul backer Calvin Lee, 26, who traveled to Florida from California. "Hurricane Paul is everything."
Even the man from a group called Bible Believers in America, who was preaching into a megaphone near the corner of Jackson and Franklin Streets, seemed to wilt in the humidity. A cranky note crept into his voice as he inveighed against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's "secret undercover underwear," a derogatory reference to the "temple garment" worn beneath their clothes as a symbol of faith by many Mormons.
At Romneyville, the protester encampment behind the Army Navy Surplus Market in downtown Tampa, inhabitants abandoned their tent city — more of a tent hamlet, if the truth be known, but hey, outdoor living in Florida isn't for everyone — for the shade of a spreading oak tree across the street.
Listless, they roused themselves to sing the theme song to Ghostbusters as a group of law enforcement officers on bicycles glided past — a tribute to the officers' beige uniforms, similar to those worn by Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray in the classic 1984 movie.
"I'm absolutely miserable," said Kevin Patten, a protester from Los Angeles. Southern California's high temperatures are bearable, he said. Florida's humidity isn't. "I won't be living in Tampa," he said. "I couldn't do it."
Tampa offers visitors distractions from its crushing summer heat, of course, such as fire ants and rainstorms. The threat of heavy weather from Hurricane Isaac, which prompted GOP officials to cancel the convention's scheduled kickoff on Monday, never materialized here. But rain still swept the Tampa Bay area as Isaac passed hundreds of miles to the west, breeding its own set of complaints.
"When it rains, it gets in everywhere," grumbled 36-year-old protester Daniel Walford. "It's hard to keep your stuff dry. It's hard to keep yourself dry."
Some in town for the convention nevertheless found ways to turn the unlovely weather to their advantage.
In the white tent housing a tea party rally featuring Jon Voight, attendees used hand fans, provided by the Family Research Council Action PAC, emblazoned with the label, "Obama Hot Air Deflector."
Outside, the Heritage Foundation handed out red, white and blue popsicles — cherry, raspberry and lemonade flavors, respectively. Keesha Bullock, 35, the foundation's director of marketing, came up with the idea when she learned the convention was headed to steamy Tampa.
"We started thinking about how convention-goers could beat the heat," Bullock said.
Whether it's heat or rain, President Obama's record or Mitt Romney's undergarments, there was a lot to complain about Tuesday in Tampa. In that respect, at least, the city is perhaps a better match than Phoenix or Salt Lake City for politicians and political activists in the mood for complaining.
Times staff writers Justin George, Curtis Krueger, Marissa Lang, John Martin, Tia Mitchell, Marlene Sokol, Jodie Tillman, and Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.