Republicans don't like stimulus programs but if the GOP convention doesn't artificially pump up its economy, Tampa will be mightily disappointed. Tampa competed for convention hosting privileges with all the gusto of London vying for the Olympics.
In recent years, there's been a major winner amid the businesses that gear up to take advantage of the Big Show. Morning Joe, MSNBC's popular political show, decamps every four years to a local eatery where Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski perch on director's chairs in the middle of a café and host the glitterati of politics.
To get the show, a restaurant must be able to accommodate throngs of onlookers, an influx of new customers and be nearby the convention arena, but not within the hard to penetrate perimeter. What the spots offer is a chance for political junkies who don't have credentials to feel like they are in on the action. What it offers the restaurant is three hours of advertising every day and a chance to host the chattering class, from Sen. John McCain to Karl Rove.
This year's spots are the Elephant Bar in Tampa, newly named for the occasion, and next week in Charlotte, NC, David Axelrod and Ed Rendell will be ordering their skim lattes at the BlackFinn American Saloon.
Both hope that the celebrity dust of prior years falls on them. In 2008, Morning Joe broadcast from Key's Café in St. Paul. "It was a blast," said manager Carol Gregory. Yes, the wait for a table got unusually long as customers made their way around cameras and cable wires but the entertainment provided by Mika insulting Joe's choice of ties made up for it. "It was very crowded," Gregory said, but it didn't matter because the place had such "an air of excitement."
For the Democratic convention in Denver in 2008, Morning Joe settled into Sam's No. 3, which got a big boost from its brief brush with fame. Long after MJ left, Sam's kept its buzz going. "It was great for us, monetarily speaking, " said Sam's manager Nate Peterson, and he got another dose of TV stardom. Shortly after MJ departed, Sam's was tapped for Food Network's reality show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
The prospect of such a break-out moment inspired a big investment in a restaurant-makeover for the Elephant Bar, according to events manager Tiff Davies. First, the power of suggestion took hold: the prior moniker Howl at the Moon was dropped for the Elephant Bar. Expecting the Morning Joe crowd to come back for happy hour, the dueling piano section was completely refashioned. The pianos now look like lecterns worthy of a presidential debate.
As the lights and cameras were being set up for Morning Joe's Monday broadcast at the elephant Bar, Davies had her fingers crossed for a major shot in the arm for business, which has been slow here as it has in so many cities: "We hit a lull. But we think this will be our rejuvenation. "
Morning Joe should drink to that.