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Let 2000's battlefield be a staging area in 2004

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By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002


Here's how it should go.

Tampa gets the 2004 Republican convention.

Miami gets the 2004 Democratic convention.

Both parties return to the state that decided the last presidential election, and square off for Round Two.

Later that fall, the whole Electoral College hangs in the balance, and once again Florida determines the outcome. (Except this time, please, it gets settled before December.)

Tampa glories over choice
Making the short list to host the GOP's 2004 convention leads to much back-slapping, but few details about the costs.

Who better than Florida to host the national conventions? For better or worse, the last time around our state was a good microcosm -- divided, diverse and split almost right down the middle. Swing voters rule.

Winning a convention is a lot different from the previous goal of getting the 2012 Summer Olympics. A lot of people laughed at that notion and were proved right. But this idea is considerably more realistic.

First, the people in charge of raising the money are heavyweights in the national party, and capable of pulling it off. Second, Florida will once again be a key state in the national race. Third, George W. Bush owes Florida. Fourth, our governor has connections.

The Republicans also will consider New Orleans and New York. This causes local skeptics to throw up their hands. How can Tampa compete with those great cities?

Most likely, if the decision were up to the thousands of media-types, protesters, hucksters and hangers-on, New Orleans would win. But they aren't the ones deciding. Will the Republicans really want to go there for their first convention following the attacks of Sept. 11, an economic downturn of uncertain length, assorted big-business scandals and (by then, maybe) a war against Iraq?

Anyway, New Orleans is overdone. Hold your convention in New Orleans, and they yawn and raise their hotel rates.

I have been to Republican conventions. Most of the participants are not as interested in Bourbon Street debauchery as in eating reasonably, having a decent hotel and checking out the attractions. Here, they would want to take side trips with their families to Disney, Busch Gardens, the beaches. For those who really did want to barhop, there's Ybor City.

New York is a tougher rival because of the emotions involved. Nobody would begrudge the president and the GOP for choosing New York. On the other hand, to be bluntly political about it, the Republicans will never carry New York anyway. And you have to figure that New York, of all cities, would recover pretty quickly from the rejection.

So, it's politically possible.

Is it physically possible?

We have the disadvantage of being a smaller to mid size convention venue. You can stand in some places in Orlando and practically hit a golf ball past thousands of hotel rooms. The Tampa Bay area, in contrast, is spread out and requires masterful transportation.

Tampa has been the host city for three Super Bowls and is a well-received candidate for a fourth. I called Jim Steeg, who is the NFL's vice president for special events, including the Super Bowl. Why has Tampa been able to succeed against bigger cities?

"The thing you always need in these type of events is a community that pulls together, no matter its size," Steeg answered immediately. "That's the most important thing. It's a business deal, of course, but what it comes right down to is people."

"Obviously, what you want is convenience, but that can be done with the transportation system," Steeg said. He called the Ice Palace, the proposed venue for the actual event, a "unique site" with waterfront access. Imagine convention-goers arriving by boat. ...

A national political convention is a lot different from a Super Bowl, of course. A Super Bowl does not draw thousands of protesters. The city would need world-class public safety, crowd control, traffic management and a hospitality effort that lasted a full week, not just the few days surrounding a football game. As Steeg said, it would take a major, regional cooperative effort. But that, too, would be a good thing. Who knows? Maybe the different communities of Tampa Bay would have to quit sniping about using each other's attractions in their tourist brochures.

-- You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at troxler@sptimes.com.

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