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GOP Taps Tampa

By some combination of luck, planning or fate, the two major parties in 2008 exhibited a particular regard for regional politics. The Interior West and Southwest had been the most competitive parts of the country in the two previous presidential elections, and at their convention in Interior West the Democrats proceeded to nominate a candidate from the largest city in the Midwest, while a week later at their convention in the Midwest the Republicans nominated a candidate from the largest city in the Interior West. Six of the nine states that Barack Obama swung back from George Bush and the Republicans in 2004 were in the Midwest and Southwest.

This past week the Republicans announced they will hold their 2012 convention in Tampa. Tampa beat out Salt Lake City and Phoenix. It is the first time a major party will hold its quadrennial national convention in the Sunshine State since 1972, when both parties convened in Miami Beach.

From a personal comfort standpoint, it was a horrible choice: It should be sizzling hot when the GOP convenes on August 27, 2012. (Tradition dictates that the Republicans, the party out of the White House, goes first; the Democrats have announced they will convene the following week, starting September 3.) Sweaty brows notwithstanding, was Tampa a good choice for the Republicans strategically, symbolically?

Yes, it was.

Obviously, Florida is not just a swing state but the largest competitive state in the country. (Only California, Texas and New York have more electoral votes, and none of those three as of now can be expected to be competitive in 2012.) Not only that, Tampa—unlike, say, Miami and Jacksonville—is one pole of the Tampa-Orlando I-4 corridor that represents a key swing part of this swing state. From a purple demography standpoint, it’s hard to find another city in the country with this much potential swing capacity. Though a case might be made for Denver or Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, I think my colleagues John Judis and Ruy Teixeira would concur.

Of course, convening in a particular city or state doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the party or candidate will consequently win that state or even generate greater electoral support. (McCain/Palin and St. Paul in 2008 is just the most recent example.) But anyone who remembers the 2008 crowds in Denver for Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at Invesco Field in August and at another huge rally in late October would be hard pressed to make the case that picking Denver had no effect on Obama’s eventual, 9-point victory in Colorado.

Electoral College geography aside, the other and far more controversial storyline is the potential symbolism of Tampa from a race/ethnicity standpoint, particularly with the widening immigration fight between the parties. The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny raised the immigration angle in his story about the announcement:

Republican leaders dismissed the suggestion that immigration was a factor in Tampa’s selection over Phoenix.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Randall Pullen, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party. “Republicans from coast to coast stand with Arizonans as we fight to secure our border.”

Of course, it’s not like Tampa is Fargo, or Florida is Vermont. The I-4 corridor is a growing destination for the Puerto Rican American community, and of course there’s the huge Cuban population in South Florida and ample number of Mexicans (not to mention non-Latino) immigrants in the state. My point is that even if the GOP had selected Fargo, immigration will still be a controversial subject that week and throughout the 2012 presidential cycle. Though there would of course have been both pro- and anti-immigration demonstrations had Phoenix been chosen, I’m betting thing will still get tense in Tampa.

In any case, pack your sunscreen and battery-operated personal fans–and maybe a Spanish-English dictionary–because it’s gonna be hot, hot, and politically hotter in Tampa in 2012.