TAMPA — Winds are whipping, clouds are ominous, the convention is on ice, but nothing shakes the foundation of the ritual caucus breakfast.
Delegation breakfasts at national political conventions have long been the place where the real news happens. There's mouthy California Rep. Darrell Issa causing a stir by saying he's "fine" with a hurricane hitting New Orleans again, as long as Republicans are victorious in November. Ouch.
An hour away, a visibly edgy party chairman Reince Priebus dramatically tells the elated Wisconsin delegation swooning over hometown veep pick Paul Ryan that President Barack Obama doesn't believe in success. And red meat was on the breakfast menu for Missouri delegates as two of the most prominent voices in the state tore into Obama in hopes of uniting a delegation fractured by the tumult of its Senate race.
All over the bay area, the breakfast crowds were stout, and the mood was euphoric. And no one has even set foot on the convention floor yet.
Christie to California: You made a bad choice for governor
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie threw an elbow at Jerry Brown and defended his endorsement of Mitt Romney to the California delegation despite the "carping and complaining that was going on with some of the political elites, saying they didn't think Mitt Romney could win the nomination."
"I knew back last October. I looked up at that stage, and with no disrespect meant to the other men and women who stood up there, I said this was the guy who fits my two tests."
Christie ignored a New York Post report that he declined an invitation to join the Republican presidential ticket because he doubted its ability to win. Instead, reported POLITICO's Juana Summers, he focused his message on the differences between New Jersey and California voters and the states' challenges.
"Look at New Jersey and look at California. Made two very different choices," Christie said at St. Petersburg's TradeWinds resort. "New Jersey decided to take a chance; New Jersey decided to take a risk on a conservative Republican governor in a blue state. California made a bad choice by going with an old retread.
"Now, listen. I don't want to be insulting because it's early, and I got plenty of time to be insulting the rest of the day," Christie said. "Now I've got to tell you, Jerry Brown? Jerry Brown?"
As Christie spoke, California pols were peppered with questions about the possibility of a split-screen convention as Tropical Storm Isaac continues to move toward New Orleans.
"I think what you have to remember is Republicans are going to take Washington by storm on Jan. 20 of next year. So if this is the first storm of Republicans taking control of our country again, making America competitive again, I'm fine with that," Issa said. "I don't care if we get blown in by a hurricane or a tornado. Ultimately, there's going to be an earthquake in Washington next January."
Wisconsin: We're rock stars
At the downtown Hyatt in Tampa, Wisconsin delegate Barb Finger couldn't believe her luck. Three months ago, she had not a penny in her bank account and was laid off from her job at Hardee's when the chain closed its operation in her small town of Oconto. She had spent all of her money living in San Antonio, where her son was recovering from battle wounds sustained in Afghanistan.
The 56-year-old Navy veteran then created a website and raised the $3,500 needed to get herself to Tampa.
"I knew we're going to be rock stars because (Gov.) Scott Walker pushed back the recall effort," said Finger, sporting large gold elephant earrings, her plate piled high with sticky buns and croissants. "But when Ryan was picked, … well, this is way better."
Obama won Wisconsin in 2008, and even with Ryan on the ticket, Romney narrowly trails the president. But Walker said in an interview that he thinks his state will turn red with Ryan's help.
"It's going to be a roller coaster. But Ryan is going to help, not only because he's the home-state favorite but because he has a proven track record of polling in his district well beyond the Republican base in his district," Walker said. "He routinely eats into the blue-collar votes way above the margin, and that could make a difference in the state."
Ohio: How Josh Romney learned he wasn't the favorite son
Speaking with members of the Ohio delegation Monday morning, Josh Romney spoke about his relationship with his father and his faith in his father's ability to be president.
"I love campaigning for my dad. He really is my hero," he said. "And so to be on the campaign trail and give people a sense of who he really is, it's a thrill for me."
He said he used to think of himself as the "favorite son" of Romney's five sons until the campaign sent him to Alaska in subzero temperatures while his brother Matt campaigned in Guam.
"I am one of the sons, not the favorite son," he joked.
All of the speakers stressed the importance of the Buckeye State in ensuring victory for Romney.
"The road to the White House goes through Ohio, and we're going to pave it for Mitt Romney," Sen. Rob Portman said to applause.
The veep short-lister added that the Ohio delegation has the tall order of making sure voters in the state hear a positive account of Romney and that Democrats are outspending Romney on the airwaves by a 2-to-1 margin.
"What have you heard about Mitt Romney? Mostly attack ads from Barack Obama," said Portman, according to POLITICO's Emily Schultheis.