(Illustration Andy Friedman/ )
Let’s be honest. There hasn’t been an interesting national political convention since 1976.
But at a minimum, this year’s conventions will give us guns, strippers, a sexual harassment scandal and a traffic apocalypse. That’s not bad.
There will be plenty to discover when the Republicans go to Tampa on Aug. 27 and the Democrats to Charlotte on Sept. 3 beyond the obvious conclusion: that both parties picked really awful places to visit during the summer. Whether you’re attending the conventions or — lucky you — following them from afar, here’s what to watch for. This, therefore, is your indispensable guide to the 2012 conventions.
Welcome to the Wild West
Delegates will want to pack a few essentials for the GOP convention in this bayside town: sunscreen, a bathing suit and a sidearm. This promises to be the Wild West of political conventions: Participants are invited to pack heat.
Florida, like many Southern states, has a generous concealed-carry law, which means that if you look at the people on your right and your left, chances are they will be armed. For this reason, you might not want to look at the people on your right and your left, lest they think you are looking at them funny.
The Tampa City Council voted to ask Gov. Rick Scott to issue an executive order banning guns within the convention perimeter. But Scott, a Republican who was, er, gunning for a speaking role at the convention, shot down the idea. The only type of gun that will be banned from the perimeter is the dreaded Super Soaker — because that’s the only type of gun the city council was allowed to ban.
The council did take the precaution of banning hatchets; there’s always a lot of backstabbing at conventions, and that’s one category of weapons the NRA isn’t much worried about protecting.
Where’s the party?
The presence of so many guns at the convention might worry the Secret Service. Fortunately for them, Tampa has something that will keep the agents otherwise occupied: strip clubs. The area has 50, making flesh one of the most visible industries.
Readers will recall that Secret Service agents demonstrated their affection for this trade during the president’s recent visit to Colombia. Republicans have also demonstrated interest. Then-Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele got into trouble a couple of years ago when RNC officials attempted to expense a $2,000 bill from Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed club where the performers simulate sex acts while suspended from nets.
It’s not clear whether the Floridians are this advanced. But many of the Tampa strip clubs are said to be upgrading equipment, hiring dancers and creating, ahem, “private nooks.” One place, Thee Dollhouse, reportedly spent $1 million to renovate and is bringing in a Sarah Palin impersonator. This could be the biggest event for the clubs since the 2009 Super Bowl, when some stayed open 24 hours.
A Paul fest (or three)
The gadfly congressman Ron Paul, perennial presidential candidate and darling of the tea party, retires after this year. That makes Tampa a last hurrah, of sorts, for this Texas obstetrician-libertarian who loves gold and hates the Fed.
There are, depending on how you count it, three separate events commemorating the good doctor on the eve of the convention.
The main one is a three-day Paul Festival next weekend hosted by the pro-Paul group Liberty Unleashed. It will have bands, performers, children’s activities and speakers that amount to a “Who’s Who of the Ron Paul Revolution.” There will be Ron Paul chocolate bars and Ron Paul T-shirts. The only thing that won’t be at the Paul Festival, in fact, is ... Ron Paul.
The congressman e-mailed supporters that he will not speak at the event, instead appearing at his own rally that rivals Paul Festival. “This event on Sunday, August 26th, at the University of South Florida’s Sun Dome, will be the ONLY pre-Convention event at which I’ll be speaking, so I hope to see you’ll be able to make it,” Paul wrote.
Unwilling to give up, the Paul Festival people announced they would have a “Ronvoy” and transport their participants to the other Paul event. Neither event should be confused with a third pro-Paul event in Tampa that weekend, the Freedom Festival hosted by a group called Liberty Avengers. Its goal, creating “a more unified liberty movement,” would seem at odds with the splintering of Paul supporters into three factions.
If the competing Paul fests don’t distract from what happens on the convention floor, Paul delegates could nominate their man for vice president. They are the majority in Iowa, Minnesota and Maine, and they could force a roll-call vote between Paul and the candidate Mitt Romney picks. The risk of this goes up significantly if Paul doesn’t get a plum speaking slot at the convention.