GOP unlikely to alter '08 site

Published May 26, 2007

TAMPA - Maybe city boosters here had it right: Tampa is the best place to host the 2008 Republican National Convention, not Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The Twin Cities won the coveted bid last year, but the financing has run into problems, raising the tantalizing - if dim - prospect that GOP leaders could revisit Tampa.

"We're not vultures, " Al Austin, who led Tampa's bid, said of Minnesota's troubles. "I hope for everyone's sake they can work out their problems. If not, we're here to help."

It seems the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, which controls the Minnesota Legislature, included a $39-million line of credit for the convention in a tax bill passed at the end of a contentious session.

The $39-million was part of the bid package that lured the convention to Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who is considered to be a vice presidential contender, has said it is likely he will veto the bill over arcane state budgeting practices. As the bill goes, so goes Minnesota's grasp on the convention, right? Tampa's big chance, right?

Not quite.

Austin said national Republican leaders said the rumor that the GOP might give up on Minneapolis is false. And top GOP officials in Florida had heard nothing of a potential change of venue.

Republican national committeeman Paul Senft of Haines City said some Republicans had been skeptical whether Minnesota could raise sufficient money for the election, especially since Republican Sen. Norm Coleman faced his own tough re-election campaign.

"We had our doubts that they could do it, but rather than burn our bridges we said if they get into trouble, give us a call, " said Senft, who also heard no rumblings recently about the convention's location coming into play again.

Sharon Day, a committeewoman from Broward County, said she also wished Minnesota well but had no doubt Florida could successfully host the convention.

"The people of Tampa would get it done, " she said. "They wouldn't miss a beat."

Tampa wanted the convention badly, and to reverse its loss of the 2004 convention to New York City. The St. Pete Times Forum would have been used as the main convention center with media housed in the Tampa Convention Center.

Charlie Crist, then the Republican candidate for governor, did his part to lobby national officials.

But in August 2006, the Republican National Committee said it was going with Minneapolis-St. Paul. Party officials said Minneapolis had a better facility, and no threat of hurricanes.

There also was another difference. The Florida bid did not have a guarantee of money. Minnesota's did.

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.