Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele describes the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa as "the people's convention" — a bit different from typical nominating conventions and not quite as concentrated on activities within the convention hall.
"Definitely more accessible, more user-friendly, if you will," Steele said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9.
Delegates, he said, should have "the full experience of being in Tampa, being a part of the city. We want to be able to take the flavor of Tampa, turn it into part of that convention experience."
There has been widespread speculation that Arizona lawmakers killed Phoenix's shot at landing the convention by passing the strictest immigration enforcement law in the country, but Steele insisted that had nothing to do with it. The choice really came down to which city showed the most capability for a top-notch event, he said.
In 2008, the former Maryland lieutenant governor gave a rousing convention speech in which he coined the catchy phrase, "Drill here! Drill Now!" He's not backing off that sentiment in the aftermath of the ongoing BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Accidents happen,'' he said in the interview, blaming the Obama administration for finger-pointing and responding too slowly. "This is the first oil spill of this magnitude since the Exxon Valdez some 20-plus years ago, so the track record here for drilling offshore in the United States is a pretty good one."
Steele is expected back in Tampa this week, and we'll be interested to see if he's joined at a news conference by Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican turned nonpartisan candidate for governor. Steele avoided any criticism of the governor's party switch and, unlike other Republican leaders, had no criticism of Crist's decision not to honor refund requests.
"That's between him and his donors." Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Bay News 9.
Crist quiets heckler
More than 100 people turned out for the opening of Charlie Crist's new campaign headquarters off Beach Drive in St. Petersburg Saturday. Among those singing his praises were Democratic state Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, Republican state Rep. Peter Nehr, Democratic Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda, Democratic former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, and Republican state Sen. Mike Fasano.
The standout moment, though, came when a heckler shouted, "What about the guys who gave you money when you were a Republican?"
"I'm going to keep it!" Crist cheerfully responded, drawing roars of approval.
Pity the many down-ballot statewide candidates struggling for attention amid all the drama in the Senate and Florida governor's race. A Mason-Dixon poll released last week underscored how invisible these contests are — and how a big shot in Tallahassee often is a nobody when it comes to the statewide electorate.
Consider the race for chief financial officer: Republican Senate President Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach leads Democratic state Rep. Loranne Ausley only 33 percent to 26 percent.
In the unpredictable attorney general primaries, more than seven in 10 people surveyed were undecided. In the GOP primary, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp drew 13 percent; former Hillsborough County prosecutor Pam Bondi, 10 percent; and former state Health Care Secretary Holly Benson 5 percent.
In the Democratic primary, state Sens. Dan Gelber and Dave Aronberg were in a near dead heat with 15 percent and 12 percent respectively.
In the race for commissioner of agriculture, Democratic former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox drew 31 percent support and Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam 30 percent.
Jeb Bush is scheduled to host a fundraiser for Marco Rubio Tuesday in Miami.
Meanwhile, Crist is starting to stress the kind of small-dollar donations that fueled Rubio's campaign early on. He said he raised more than $125,000 online in the past two weeks and is urging donors to contribute $20.10 online (as in 2010).
Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.