TAMPA — Two weeks to the day before he will take the stage to accept his party's nomination for president, Mitt Romney's voice was heard live inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the first time.
"Hi, it's Mitt calling," the former Massachusetts governor told about 140 campaign and convention staffers gathered for a meeting Thursday afternoon.
The surprise call was to thank the staff that has worked for up to a year and a half to stage the Aug. 27-30 convention.
"I've organized a couple of big events myself, as you know, and I know what kind of work is involved in bringing together the number of people that we're assembling," Romney said.
"I know that you know it's important," he said. "We're deciding on the direction of the country, and, interestingly, a lot of people will make up their mind based on the convention. So we want it to be as close to perfect as it can possibly be."
Bob White, the chairman of Romney's campaign, attended the meeting and told staffers their work would make a difference.
"I've known Mitt for 30 years," White said. "We started Bain Capital together, and I've had the opportunity to work with him on almost every one of the challenges that he's taken on. My biggest frustration is that the world does not know the Mitt Romney that I know."
But he said it will after the RNC, "and when they know who he is, he will be the next president of the United States."
National Guard's RNC deployment approved
Florida's Joint Legislative Budget Commission on Thursday approved spending $2.3 million in federal money by the Department of Military Affairs, which will allow the state to dispatch 1,750 Florida National Guard troops to Tampa for the RNC.
Of that money, $1.29 million will come from Tampa's $50 million federal RNC security grant. The other $1 million will come from the Pentagon and National Guard.
Tampa police have said they expect the Guard's troops to help with traffic control and work stationary security posts. The Guard has said it will be ready to help civilian authorities with everything from communications to flying helicopters to security.
Among the troops to be activated for RNC duty are some assigned out of Pinellas Park.
The bipartisan, 14-member budget commission approved the money unanimously.
"To me, it's a nonpartisan issue, to make sure our citizens are safe and visitors are safe, whoever's convention it happened to be," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who chairs the commission.
Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau
Some MSNBC shows open to the public
MSNBC's RNC coverage plans include taking over several spots in the Channelside Bay Plaza entertainment complex, converting the piano bar Howl at the Moon into a studio for two programs and creating an outdoor set for Chris Matthews' Hardball.
MSNBC president Phil Griffin compared the political conventions with the Olympics: a spectacle that draws in casual viewers, giving cable channels a golden opportunity to snag new fans.
"There are people who never watch politics who will watch this," he said.
And because MSNBC's sets are outside the pedestrian-restricted security zones, the public can attend live broadcasts of some shows.
The channel's morning programs Way Too Early with Willie Geist and Morning Joe will air from Howl at the Moon, renamed the Morning Joe Elephant Bar at Channelside, from 5:30 to 9 a.m. Aug. 27 to 31. Those morning broadcasts will be open to the public. The channel also will organize Morning Joe viewing parties in the Boat House Bar at Channelside.
Anchors Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell will host their RNC shows at 9 and 10 a.m. from inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, while Matthews will host Hardball from an outdoor set at Channelside at 5 p.m. each day.
Rachel Maddow will lead the channel's prime-time coverage from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., also from inside the Times Forum.
Eric Deggans, Times TV/Media Critic
Condoleezza Rice to take part in forum
The Tampa Bay Host Committee on Thursday announced the lineup for a series of events highlighting economic development opportunities in Florida for capitalists visiting for the RNC.
Panelists include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Gov. Rick Scott, former Gov. Jeb Bush and his son, energy executive George P. Bush; U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Javier Palomarez, and Daniel Diaz Leyva, a partner in the Miami-based law firm Infante Zumpano.
A reception at the University of South Florida Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation will kick off the series the night of Aug. 27.
Co-sponsored by Bloomberg, the rest of the series will look at international trade, regulation and restraint, America's emerging workforce and education.