The coveted hotel assignments for the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa are out, and Florida will be sent to the convention's version of Siberia.
The Republican National Committee had vowed to give Florida lower priority for hotels as part of the punishment for state legislative leaders setting the presidential primary in January in violation of party rules. On Monday, the RNC Committee on Arrangements announced that the Florida delegation will be at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, nearly 32 miles from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"I'm p----- off,'' said Florida Republican Party chairman Lenny Curry. "We're one of the most important swing states, if not the most important swing state, and our activists and our donors are going to be punished for something they had nothing to do with."
Florida Republicans certainly could do a lot worse.
Innisbrook, a swank, sprawling property with a golf course, spa and multiple swimming pools and fine restaurants, is no Econo Lodge. Owner Sheila Johnson, co-founder of the BET network (and a major Democratic contributor), has significantly upgraded the resort in recent years.
Still, it's no easy stroll to downtown Tampa.
James Davis, spokesman for the committee on arrangements, said the Innisbrook assignment has nothing to do with Florida legislators setting the primary earlier than allowed. Rather, organizers searched for hotels that could accommodate the largest state delegations without dividing them between multiple venues.
Texas is at Saddlebrook Resort in Pasco County, New York is at the Hilton Clearwater Beach and California is at the TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach.
"There was no penalty assessed,'' Davis insisted, explaining that assignments were based on delegation sizes and the requests state parties submitted for room rates, meeting space and the like. "This is the first time we've been able to put Florida, California, Texas and New York in their single hotels without splitting them up."
• • •
That explanation doesn't pass the smell test to some party leaders, however.
"Anybody that takes a look at the list of hotels can see there are hotels in Tampa proper, not necessarily downtown Tampa, but the Westshore area or by the airport, that could have housed all of our (420 rooms). Those are just the facts,'' Curry said. "We'll be good soldiers. We understand there's a big picture, but it's disappointing."
There is some poetic justice for Florida. South Carolina GOP leaders had called on the party to move the convention out of Tampa Bay, as punishment for Florida's early primary. Turns out the South Carolina delegation will be bunking with Sunshine Staters at Innisbrook.
Convention organizers have said no hotel is more than 40 minutes away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, which sounds like a stretch in the case of Innisbrook. Organizers are considering dedicated bus lanes to speed up the trip for convention guests, but nothing has been settled.
Presumptive nominee Mitt Romney's home state of Massachusetts scored the closest accommodations at the Tampa Marriott Waterside, just steps from the Forum. And his native state of Michigan, which like Florida violated the RNC's primary schedule both in 2008 and 2012, is at the Embassy Suites Tampa, also steps from the Forum.
Wisconsin, home state of Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, is at the convenient Hyatt Regency Tampa, along with Mississippi.
• • •
Delegations from other top battleground states can expect some reasonably long bus rides as well: Virginia delegates will be at Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key at least 45 minutes away, while Ohio will be about 20 minutes away at the Mainsail Suites Hotel & Conference Center in Tampa. North Carolina is at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront and Colorado is at the Holiday Inn St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport.
The hotels assigned to delegations are divided closely between Pinellas and Hillsborough, while Texas and Louisiana are just across the Pasco County line at Saddlebrook. Long bus rides are inevitable with some 50,000 attending the convention. Florida Republicans who attended the 2008 convention had bus commutes of nearly an hour from their hotel across from the Mall of America to downtown St. Paul.
About 16,000 rooms were reserved at 100 hotels in the bay area. Delegates will stay at 36 hotels while RNC officials, the media and visitors will be assigned to the rest. For example, no delegation is assigned to Westin Tampa Harbour Island, the soon-to-reopen Floridan hotel in downtown Tampa, the Don CeSar Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach or Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg, so those plum assignments are not yet set.
"From Harbour Island to Clearwater and St. Petersburg, and all the beautiful beaches, the Tampa Bay area is one of America's premiere vacation and business destinations," said convention chief executive officer William Harris. "So wherever you're staying, you're going to have a great experience."