ST. PETERSBURG — The Jan. 31 Florida GOP Primary could determine who the Republicans will field against President Barack Obama in November. The coronation of that person will take place in Tampa at the Republican National Convention in August.
That puts Tampa Bay at the center of the political universe, said Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Co. during the Suncoast Tiger Bay annual awards dinner Tuesday at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater.
"The world will turn its attention to here," Tash told the crowd of 200. "It will be quite the show and it's coming to Tampa Bay."
But rather than being a mere showcase for the political world, the metropolitan area of Tampa Bay and its 4.2 million residents will determine who wins the Nov. 6 general election, Tash said.
On Jan. 23, the University of South Florida will host a primetime GOP presidential debate. Televised on NBC and sponsored in part by the Tampa Bay Times, which is owned by Times Publishing, Tash said the estimated audience will be 10 million, "a much bigger audience than the other debates."
Once voters do decide, Tampa Bay will have an outsized-say in the election because of a knack for capturing the national sentiment. In the last eight races for president, governor and U.S. senator, the candidate who won Tampa Bay won the election.
"As Tampa Bay goes, so goes Florida, as does the nation," Tash said.
Tash started at the Times as a summer intern in 1975. He worked as a reporter, city editor, metro editor, Washington bureau chief and executive editor before becoming chairman and CEO in 2004.
On Jan. 1, Florida's largest newspaper changed its name from the St. Petersburg Times to the Tampa Bay Times. Tash has said the name change doesn't change the coverage, ownership or journalist standards of the Times.
Tiger Bay is a nonpartisan assembly of civic and business leaders.
During the awards ceremony, former Gov. Buddy MacKay and Pinellas County Circuit Judge Irene Sullivan won the Benjamin Franklin Distinguished Leadership Award, which honors exemplary public leadership. Eileen Hart, a Hillsborough County community activist, won the Grassroots Awards, which honors a citizen who has made a "singular contribution to public policy."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or [email protected]