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Tampa 2012: The Politics Of Choosing A Convention Site

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Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for Arizona, news came Wednesday that the Republican National Committee chose Tampa, Fla. as the site of their 2012 national convention, beating out Phoenix (and Salt Lake City).

Besides bruised feelings, Arizona will miss out on $200 million that would have poured into Phoenix. A recent study showed that Denver, Co., the site of the 2008 Democratic convention, generated $226 million in 2008, an important source of revenue coming at a time when the Great Recession was taking hold.

What makes losing the GOP convention sting a little more for Phoenix, more so than Salt Lake City, is that the recent anti-immigration bill signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has sparked heated complaints of discrimination from Hispanic groups and other immigration advocacy groups threatening to boycott the state. Phoenix already stands to lose as much as $90 million in hotel and convention business over the next five years, according to recent city estimates, while statewide at least 23 meetings have been canceled, costing the Grand Canyon State between $6 and $10 million.

The RNC dismissed any suggestion that the recent anti-immigration backlash factored into their decision. The primary reason Phoenix wasn't chosen, according to the site selection committee, was attributed to Phoenix's insufferable heat in August. Such reasoning, though, is suspicious when you compare temperatures of Phoenix to Tampa during the summer months.

According to Tom Moore, meteorologist at The Weather Channel, "While the average high in Tampa is considerably less than Phoenix in late August, the relative humidity on average is considerably lower in Phoenix. ''

Aside from the clear political gain in avoiding Phoenix, the RNC's decision to settle on Florida makes perfect strategic sense, when you consider the site of a national political convention is traditionally intended to send a strong message (especially states suffering through hard economic times) that the party is in tune with their predicaments.

Despite stiff opposition from party members, the RNC selected Detroit as a convention site in 1980, for among other reasons, to reach out to poor urban blacks and revive a battered industrial city suffering through almost two decades of economic decline. Of course, it helps if the state you've selected happens to be a swing state. The last Republican to hold a convention in a swing state and carry the state in the general election was Ronald Reagan in 1980, winning Michigan.

Since the collapse of the housing market, and the loss of tourism, Florida has been especially hard hit by the recession. Florida's unemployment at 12.3 percent is well above the national average. Even comparing unemployment from city-to-city shows Tampa's unemployment at an alarming 13 percent, significantly more than Phoenix (9 percent) and Salt Lake City (7 percent). In addition to drawing 40,000 visitors, party organizers estimate the GOP convention will have a $170 million economic impact on Tampa.

Ever since the highly contested presidential election in 2000, Florida has become a crucial swing state, offering an alluring 27 electoral votes, which might add two additional electoral votes depending on the results of the 2010 census. This is far cry from the measly eight electoral votes at stake in Florida at the end of World War II. After winning Florida for two consecutive presidential elections, the Sunshine State turned blue in 2008, when Barack Obama captured 51.03 percent of the vote.

Most political analysts think winning Florida an absolute must if the GOP hopes to recapture the White House in 2012, In particular, winning back Hispanic voters, an important voting bloc that turned away from Republicans in 2008 and voted for Obama by a 57-42 percent margin is what the party is focusing on.

Republicans are well aware of how much Florida's voting landscape has changed since 2004, the last time it voted Republican. According to a recent study by America's Voice, Latino voters grew by 403,000 or 49 percent compared to 2004. The Democrats ability to win other battleground states, such as Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico in 2008, moreover, were helped significantly by wooing the Hispanic vote

So in the end, the GOP has set the table perfectly for 2012. They'll be able to showcase their message in a Florida city battered by a crippling economic recession in a state many consider a true representation of the country with its large diverse population.

The GOP will additionally benefit from rolling out their new favorite son, Florida Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio, a wildly popular figure, the son of Cuban immigrant, a Roman Catholic who speaks Spanish fluently and has voiced his opposition to Arizona' immigration law, while staying sensitive to the public safety concerns that illegal immigration presents to the Grand Canyon State

And with the way immigration reform has moved to the front burner and showing no signs of fading into the thin night air-both parties know what's at stake in 2012: the party best able to address concerns of Hispanics being discriminated against, while comforting other voters upset with illegal immigrants flooding their states, could very well be the party that wins the White House.