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Florida delegates spend day in convention purgatory at Innisbrook Resort

PALM HARBOR — Spread across 1,000 acres, Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort is a top draw for outdoor enthusiasts with an impressive array of golf courses, pools and nature walks.

But a steady drizzle Monday from Tropical Storm Isaac kept about 900 delegates and guests from South Carolina and Florida inside for most of the day. As they milled about the resort, they felt strangely removed from the convention that is taking place 30 miles away in Tampa.

"This is the penalty box, right here," said John Colon, a Sarasota Wells Fargo investor. "This is our punishment."

For moving their primaries to earlier dates, Florida and South Carolina lost half of their voting delegates at the Republican National Convention and were relegated to Innisbrook. Monday, the delegates felt the sting of that banishment.

While the delegates agreed Innisbrook was nice, they said it wasn't a typical convention hotel where attendees can hobnob in the main lobby or bar. There is no obvious central gathering spot. Guests check in at one building but register for events in another that's a car ride away.

Cars are needed throughout the stay, as most of the amenities, from the spa, pools and fitness center, are spread out. Those who imbibe at hotel bars must wait for a bus or drive themselves back to their room because of the resort's suburban design.

"It's not conducive to networking," Colon said.

Party leaders made light of the situation. "We welcome our partners in primary purgatory," said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam during the breakfast for the delegations.

But the accommodations and dreary weather had delegates feeling less than fired up and ready to go. After the breakfast, they streamed out to buses that took them to their rooms. Some said they were going back to answer email and work on their laptops. Others weren't so sure.

Kathleen Donlin planned to work out, maybe squeeze in a massage. She definitely had some reading to do.

"I brought 10 copies of Vanity Fair," laughed Donlin, an Orlando delegate. "I haven't had time to read them, and I figured I'd have the time here."

She was right. Shuttles scheduled to take delegates to the Tampa Bay Times Forum were scrubbed. If anyone wanted to go, they would have to drive themselves. With Innisbrook a 50-minute drive from the Times Forum, many chose to stay at the resort. But what to do?

From 2 to 8 p.m., no events were planned. A Busch Gardens outing was scrapped. In its place, state party officials scheduled a second reception at Innisbrook.

Later, Florida delegates and guests were invited by former state GOP chairman Al Cardenas to the American Conservative Union's Nuestra Noche event at the Cuban Club in Ybor City. Former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio were set to speak.

Until then a few delegates lounged in a resort ballroom that was tricked out with foosball, pingpong, air hockey and pool tables. Flat screen televisions blared FOX News.

Dana Swanson, a state committeewoman from DeBary, said she hadn't played pool in 10 years. After she sank the eight ball, beating her opponent, she had time for another game.

"We're just kind of chilling," Swanson said. "Our day is pretty open. I don't know what we're going to be doing this afternoon. I do like this hospitality suite, and this is a fantastic resort."

By the afternoon, however, the suite was nearly empty, even though free beer and wine were available. A couple of people worked on laptops while camped out in front of the TVs. Three men huddled at one table, while six women sat at another.

"It's been a weird day," said Barbara Wall, chairwoman of the Okaloosa County Republican Party. "If I were at the convention, I'd be busy doing things. Here I'm just sitting around, catching up with old friends."

With nothing going on, Colon, the investor, said he was headed back to work. "There's no reason to stay here," Colon said.

Florida delegates spend day in convention purgatory at Innisbrook Resort 08/27/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 27, 2012 9:47pm]
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