Memo to GOP

The Tampa Bay area offers Republicans a lot - not least votes and fundraising - as they weigh where to hold their 2008 convention.

A Times Editorial
Published August 22, 2006

As the site selection committee for the 2008 Republican National Convention wraps up its whirlwind tour of Tampa Bay, we hope they fly off with visions of vibrant downtowns and gorgeous beaches dancing in their heads. Remembering a few cold hard facts wouldn't hurt, either.

Tampa International Airport is one of the most passenger-friendly airports in the country. The St. Pete Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center are first-rate facilities. There are rich cultural diversions, from Ybor City in Tampa to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. And the other finalists - New York, Cleveland and Minneapolis - can't match the theme parks to the east and the sunsets on the gulf to the west.

Cleveland would appear to be the toughest competition. New York hosted the GOP convention in 2004, a natural pick so soon after 9/11. Minneapolis would be an odd choice for Republicans geographically and politically, and the Democrats are eyeing that city for their convention. Cleveland offers a big stage in Ohio, another swing state that can decide tight presidential elections. It has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a great baseball stadium and a rejuvenated downtown.

But let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Florida has more electoral votes, and Tampa Bay anchors one end of the I-4 corridor that is full of moderate voters who can decide elections. This state has been awfully kind to the Bush brothers, Governor Jeb and President George W. - recount or no recount. And Republicans will need Florida just as badly in 2008 as they have the last two presidential elections. There is a reason Arizona Sen. John McCain spent the weekend barnstorming the state with gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, and it wasn't just the potential presidential candidate's affection for the state attorney general.

Florida also has been a cash cow for national Republicans. Some 55 of the president's top fundraisers in his two national campaigns are from Florida, including Tampa's Al Austin and former Gov. Bob Martinez. That's second only to Bush's home state of Texas. And since 2000, national Republican committees have raked in roughly $65-million from Floridians. Ohio can't come close to matching that, and the investment ought to be worth some show of appreciation.

Florida hasn't hosted a national political convention since both major parties visited Miami Beach in 1972, and Tampa Bay made a good first impression when it made a pitch to Republicans for the 2004 convention. Austin can be counted on to raise the private money needed for the 2008 convention, and this region's political leaders work together better than ever. Transportation will be an issue, the fear of hurricanes will have to be overcome and hotels will be spread out over several counties. But Cleveland's bid includes hotels more than 50 miles away.

Yes, it's a bit warm here this time of year. But there is plenty of air conditioning. And did we mention that the high temperature today in Cleveland will be in the 80s?