August 28, 2012 at 7:55 am
By Melissa E. Holsman
Treasure Coast Newspapers
TAMPA — Despite more rain and warnings to stay away from area beaches, Florida delegates and party officials weren’t complaining Monday about being housed 25 miles from the Republican National Convention in downtown Tampa as a result of moving the state’s presidential primary.
The convention officially began Monday at 2 p.m., but only for 10 minutes, long enough to call the event to order before recessing until Tuesday afternoon.
Gov. Rick Scott on Monday morning addressed the Florida delegation at the Palm Harbor Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort during a “Fresh From Florida Victory” breakfast hosted by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. Scott talked about the storm’s impact and what’s being done to protect residents as Tropical Storm Isaac makes its way up the Gulf Coast.
He urged the crowd of about 450 people to stay close to the resort Monday and avoid visiting nearby shorelines until the weather improves.
He also urged convention-goers staying in downtown Tampa to stay put until the system passed by.
Later, Scott dismissed the idea that party leaders had any regrets from moving the primary to Jan. 31, which in part resulted in the Florida delegation being housed at the Palm Harbor venue instead of in the downtown area.
“Well, we don’t have to worry about the beach,” Scott said. “I think they were really nice to us.”
During a rousing speech to kick off four days of Florida delegation activities, Putnam welcomed Republican delegates, party leaders and elected officials before introducing Scott, and later South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
After the event, Putnam insisted that despite the distant housing location, there were “absolutely no regrets about the timing of Florida’s primary.”
“It’s a beautiful place,” he said.
Moving the primary, Putnam said, “put the national spotlight on Florida, on Florida Republicans for a swing state. We’re a diverse state. We need to be early.”
Alternate delegate Bill Paterson, of Port St. Lucie, said with Monday’s convention events canceled and relentless rain that fell Sunday night into Monday morning, delegates were making the best of it.
He said he’s using the down time to visit friends in Tampa and network with other delegates staying at the resort.
“We’re going to relax a little bit and meet some friends,” he said, “and then come back and relax here and get ready for tomorrow.”
Paterson said he hadn’t heard any delegates grumbling about moving the primary, or having to stay so far from the downtown Tampa action.
“Being out here isn’t the problem,” he said of Innisbrook. “It’s the way the resort is situated, that all the delegates aren’t even in the same building. They’re all in buildings spread over a thousand acres.
“I’m sure that’s not intentional,” he added. “But we got together last night after the event at Tropicana Field and came back to Innisbrook and got together until about midnight.”
A swank, large hospitality suite at Innisbrook set up for the delegates offers plenty of diversions, including games for Ping-Pong, air hockey, billiards and foosball. The room is decorated with a large replica of a Disney-like castle, two portable tiki hut type bars and overstuffed couches and chairs situated around two large TV screens tuned to The Fox News Channel.
Paterson said while they’re enjoying the resort, he’d still like to be at a venue closer to convention-central at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in downtown Tampa.
“I’d rather be at the Marriott right outside the door of the convention. I stayed there last month and it was a lot closer,” he said. “You could walk across the street from there.
“But then you’d have to deal with all the Occupiers (political protest movement), and the anarchists that are trying to put a damp spin on this, so I’m very pleased out here, and I’m having a good time talking with a lot of delegates and a lot of chairmen.”
Meanwhile, other Treasure Coast Republicans expected to attend the convention either haven’t arrived or aren’t staying at Innisbrook.
State Rep. Gayle Harrell is using the occasion to stay with family in the area, she said. As of Monday, state Sen. Joe Negron and Martin County committeewoman MaryLynn Magar, who won her House District 82 primary race in August, haven’t checked into the resort.