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GOP convention: a pep rally in a hurricane?


Ohio's delegation to the Republican National Convention - set to begin Monday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in downtown Tampa - is already gathering in the city on the bay, hoping for a convention that will give its presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, a bounce in the polls.

They're also hoping to stave off disaster - natural disaster, in this case, which is entirely possible given the fact that Tropical Storm Isaac could be at hurricane status by the time it passes by the Tampa Bay area in the Gulf of Mexico, probably on Monday.

There's not much that could stop a presidential nominating convention dead in its tracks, but a hurricane would be one of them.

Depending on the track Tropical Storm Isaac takes and whether or not it is a category one hurricane 50,000 or so convention attendees could be sitting in the dark, twiddling their thumbs.

Let’s hope, for the Tampa Bay area’s sake, that that is not the case.

Nonetheless, the Ohio delegation will be heading to Tampa knowing two things: first, that it is a very good idea to pack rain gear, and, secondly, that they are important.

Intrinsically important, because, if there is one absolute truth in American presidential politics, it is that no Republican president – none, going back to the first, Abraham Lincoln - has been elected to the White House without winning Ohio.

Ohio, right now, appears to be a dead heat between President Obama and Mitt Romney. An Ohio Poll, released last week by the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research, showed Obama with a three percentage point lead in Ohio – 49 percent to 46 percent.

That’s within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent. And that means the score, practically speaking, is tied going into the late innings.

What the Romney-Ryan team want more than anything is for the Ohio delegates – who hold considerable influence in their counties and cities back home – to come out of Tampa “fired up, and ready to go,” to borrow the old Obama campaign rallying cry.

What that means for the Ohio Republicans gathering in Tampa is that, being delegates from a key battleground state, they will likely get a nice spot on the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, one with a clear view of the podium and plenty of opportunities to get their mugs on the TV networks for the folks back home.

It also means that in the daily delegation breakfast – probably the most important event of the day for most delegates, because that is where they do business, schmooze and, occasionally, make some news – they will be treated to speeches by high-profile speakers. Maybe some of the former presidential candidates. Some high-profile conservative radio talk show hosts or TV talking heads. Maybe, if they are really lucky, a visit from one of the two men at the top of the ticket.

Some of them, especially from southwest Ohio, might show up at the delegation hotel – the Mainsail Suites Hotel and Conference Center on Eisenhower Boulevard – still smarting from the fact that their favorite, Sen. Rob Portman, was passed over for Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for the vice presidential nomination.

It was the second election in a row where Portman – former congressman and Bush administration cabinet-level official – has been the bridesmaid instead of the bride when it comes to the second spot on the GOP ticket. John McCain gave him a good look in  2008, but turned to Sarah Palin.

But Portman will get the consolation prize for vice presidential wanna-be’s – although Portman always insisted he wasn’t interested. He’ll speak from the podium at Tampa Bay Times Forum Wednesday night, one of the opening acts for Ryan, the main speaker of the evening. 

Other Ohioans will play high profile roles.

House Speaker John Boehner of West Chester, the highest ranking Republican elected official in the country, is scheduled to kick off the convention Monday afternoon. Tuesday night, Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, whose once abysmal approval ratings are starting to climb, will address the convention.

All of this makes Ohio delegates feel good.

And going home feeling good is what presidential nominating conventions are all about these days.
The days of brokered conventions are long gone; everyone knows who is on and off the ticket long before they pack their bags for the convention city.

What conventions are now are four-day pep rallies. And they are four-day free commercials for the candidate and his running mate, where they can deliver an almost-unfiltered message.

A pep rally in the rain.

A whole lot of rain in fact.