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Gasparilla ripe for invasion of GOP presidential candidates before Florida primary

TAMPA — This year, Florida's Republican presidential primary comes three days after Gasparilla, creating the chance that Tampa's annual booze-soaked pirate festival will see invaders of a different kind.

Candidates.

Gasparilla, which draws up to 300,000 people, is scheduled for Jan. 28. The moved-up GOP primary is on Jan. 31.

So far, the nonpartisan group Americans Elect is bringing its "Crash the Party" bus tour to Tampa in the hope of reaching out to voters at Gasparilla. As of Monday, however, no GOP presidential campaigns had inquired about trying to get in.

But that wouldn't surprise organizers.

"It will be interesting to see if we get a call with the Florida primary fast approaching," said Darrell Stefany, president of EventFest of Tampa, the company that organizes the parade.

This isn't the first time Gasparilla and the primary have collided. Something similar happened in 2008, and you may remember a plane towing a banner for Mike Huckabee.

If and when the campaigns come calling this year, their options would be limited.

It's too late to get an entry into the 100-unit parade. There also is no opportunity for an already approved parade participant to devote its float to a particular campaign (so no krewe for Newt).

That's because Ye Mystic Krewe's rules require that it approve the floats' designs in advance for their "show and entertainment value." It prohibits any unapproved advertising or product promotion.

Finally, while local and state elected officials get to ride in convertibles in the parade, organizers would frown upon them displaying a candidate's campaign sign.

"We would tell them not to do that," Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla executive officer Don Barnes said.

Like anyone seeking a sponsorship, a campaign could pay to put a tent along the parade route, Stefany said. A 10- by 10-foot tent there goes for $3,500.

Though Gasparilla is known for public drunkenness and bawdy displays, local tradition says it has to draw the line somewhere, and historically that's been at overt politicking.

Last year, for example, most Tampa candidates for mayor and City Council steered clear of the parade, saying it would be bad form to mix their politics into other people's fun.

What kind of presence Americans Elect could have at Gasparilla hasn't been worked out.

The nonprofit group, which plans to hold its own online convention in June and nominate its own slate of candidates, is sending its bus through various primary election states, traveling through Jacksonville, Orlando, to Tampa on Gasparilla, then to St. Petersburg and Tallahassee on election day.

Tampa attorney Clark Jordan-Holmes, a delegate leader for Americans Elect, recently called the Ybor City Saturday Market to ask if it would be okay to bring the bus there.

"We'd love to be in the parade, but I doubt there's enough time to make it happen," Jordan-Holmes said Monday. The market is close to the trolley from Ybor to downtown, but market organizers told him their bylaws do not allow them to host political or religious groups.

Still, getting to Gasparilla has its appeal.

"It's definitely a good place to find a lot of people who I'm sure are discontented with the current political process," Americans Elect press coordinator Allison Grant said.

Maybe and maybe not, said Tony Morejon, the secretary of the market's governing board.

"I'd think about that if I were them," he said, "because most people who go to Gasparilla don't remember anything."

Gasparilla ripe for invasion of GOP presidential candidates before Florida primary 01/09/12 [Last modified: Monday, January 9, 2012 10:20pm]
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