Our Tampa odyssey began early the Saturday morning preceding the convention. We arrived in Tampa around lunch time, and the airport was abuzz with arriving delegates and greeters from Tampa, including a barber shop quartet which serenaded arriving visitors. My wife and I grabbed the keys to our rental car and headed west to Safety Harbor, a small Tampa suburb where the Tennessee delegation would be holed up for the duration of the convention.

Upon our arrival to Safety Harbor, we checked into our hotel and then walked across the street to the Safety Harbor downtown area. Safety Harbor is a quaint and friendly town, and tourism drives the local economy. In some ways, it is a Mayberry style community where just about everything is in easy walking distance. Clearwater is the nearest mid-size town, and my wife and I enjoyed a casual stroll to Clearwater from Safety Harbor. We also walked to First Baptist, Safety Harbor the following day and worshiped with the local body of Christ.

One of my favorite aspects of the convention was the opportunity to strengthen and develop friendships. I was by far the youngest delegate from Tennessee (I am twenty-eight), so my wife and I struck up quite a few friendships with seasoned Republicans and staffers who were closer in age. We appreciated listening to great stories of Tennessee’s GOP resurgence during delegation breakfasts and dinners. Particularly interesting were stories recounted by our Lieutenant Governor, Ron Ramsey, explaining how the GOP took control of the Tennessee legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Ramsey’s strategy included recruiting solid Republicans for races no one thought they could win. Ramsey along with the party chairman at that time, Bob Davis, (former advisor and campaign chairman to Fred Thompson) opted not to show these particular GOP candidates horrific poll numbers during the campaign. The Republican candidates pulled off big upsets and the GOP gained enough seats to realize a one vote majority in the Senate. However, one GOP Senator sold out conservatives and expressed his intention to caucus with Democrats to gain a committee chairmanship. Instead of dwelling over his imminent misfortune, Ramsey launched a stealth campaign to persuade a disaffected Democratic senator to break ranks with her colleagues and support the GOP leadership. The successful result of that effort launched the beginning of the Republican tsunami in Tennessee politics. The GOP captured the Senate and within four years controlled the House and Governor’s mansion also. The funniest vignette was recounted by a long-time party operative reminiscing the 1980 convention in Detroit. At a party function in Detroit, a gigantic Tennessee-shaped ice sculpture, slid off a table, crashed through a high rise hotel window and (fortunately) smashed into a lower part of the building.

Occupiers a Non-factor

While the media loves spotlighting leftist protestors, I did not actually see a single protester until the last night of the convention. Three left wing radicals dressed as female genitalia held signs with leftist slogans. Though we often walked several blocks to the convention, I never saw or had any interaction with any other protesters. The protestors were a non-factor, and several protestors finally accepted this reality.

En route to the convention from Safety Harbor a massive Romney “Believe in America” flag flew outside a small business in Tampa. I remember thinking that a) over the last four years, I had never seen anything like that displayed for Obama and b) America would never see or hear anything about it from the mainstream media. But the flag, along with conservative billboards strategically located along the interstate definitely stood out and seemed much more effective to me than two or three college kids modeling bizarre costumes as a protest.

The Paulbots

The first day of the Convention the RNC held its roll call of state delegation vote totals. During the Presidential campaign, Ron Paul opted to suspend his campaign but announced he would try to win as many delegates as possible. This savvy strategy enabled Paul to increase his delegates at the RNC and influence and steer the party platform. In the future, I expect other GOP candidates to adopt this tactic. This development resulted in a large number of delusional Paul supporters arriving at the convention foolishly convinced they could pull of a miracle and nominate Ron Paul. I had gotten to know some Paulites while campaigning in Iowa in January. I admired many of their libertarian ideals including their tenacity and admiration for the Constitution, and I shared many of their concerns regarding our fiscal and economic crisis. However, many of them struck me as young, ignorant and lacking real-world understanding of global politics and international relations. They reminded me of the lost boys from Peter Pan: enthusiastic, energetic but not particularly bright. Many youthful supporters view Paul as some sort of a father figure (not necessarily a bad thing in itself), and their devotion is truly cult-like. To some Paulites, the man is a demigod deserving founding father status. This ridiculous notion demonstrates how little some Paulites truly understand our founding fathers and how much disregard (or ignorance) they have for modern-day conservatives who devotedly uphold and defend the Constitution. Regrettably, the obnoxiousness and juvenile behavior of the Paulites were loudly displayed during the first day of the convention during the role call. While Santorum and Newt delegates decisively unified and backed Romney, Paulites never outwardly demonstrated any party unity even while the RNC went to great lengths to ameliorate their grievances by generously extending an invitation for Sen. Rand Paul to speak (Rand delivered an excellent speech by the way) and by playing a Ron Paul tribute video. Several Paulites demonstrated an intense desire to be heard but no desire to listen to opposing conservative viewpoints or find common ground. For the libertarian movement to have a significant impact on the GOP, they are going to have to engage in constructive dialogue with Republicans and find common ground. In essence, they need to follow the younger Paul’s leadership and example.

Noteworthy Speeches

I didn’t actually get to hear Ann Romney or Chris Christie’s speech live as I left the convention that night to help work an after-party event. However, I watched Ann Romney’s speech later that night on Right Scoop, and it was outstanding. Several GOP women who watched the speech thought it was very effective and would resonate with women voters.

In addition to Ryan and Romney, Mia Love, Secretary Condi Rice, Gov. Susanna Martinez and Sen. Marco Rubio gave particularly noteworthy speeches. Their stories were truly American and showed the promise of America available to those willing to work hard and overcome obstacles. Rice’s argument that education is the civil rights issue of our day was right on target. In Tennessee with strong Republican majorities, we have a great opportunity to lead the nation in reforming education and making school choice available to students and parents. I am optimistic we will make school choice available to lower AND middle income families. I loved how Martinez explained the moment she realized she was a Republican. If Romney wins in November, it will result from many Americans realizing they are Republicans and understanding that the Democratic party has failed the country. Rubio’s life story is all-American, and few Republicans can articulate conservatism better than he can. I am optimistic that the responsibility of Senate Majority Leader lies ahead for Marco Rubio.

Watching Paul Ryan deliver his convention speech, I couldn’t resist thinking I was watching a young Ronald Reagan circa 1965. He embodies Reagan’s conservatism, charisma, passion for America, powerful intellect, Midwestern roots, optimism and smooth speaking style. Ryan eloquently articulated that Obama had failed and announced the moment to elect the adults in the room had arrived. He convincingly argued Americans ought to choose a leader who had actually turned disastrous organizations around and developed a proven record of accomplishment. One of his most memorable lines compared Obama’s presidency to a faded Obama poster belonging to a kid who can’t find a job and move on from living with his parents. The line spawned an excellent ad by Crossroads.

I’ve seen several media reports that viewership of the RNC plunged 31% in comparison to 2008. These reports are very misleading. They fail to take into account that many people watch the news online far more than they did four years ago, and this is especially true for younger Americans. My wife and I fall into that category. We don’t have cable or even local news. We watch virtually everything from our computer (which we can run through our tv). My wife and I now watch our favorite shows online, and we watched several of the convention speeches again on Right Scoop. With less household income, many Americans are abandoning cable and finding alternative methods to access media. Pew Research reported in January 2011, that 41% of Americans rely on the internet as their primary news source. This is 17 points higher than 2007. Does anyone seriously think this trend has actually declined over the last 19 months? With the introduction of tablets and more Americans switching to iPhones and Android smart phones, it seems very unlikely. In fact, I’d be willing to bet the trend has accelerated. The trend is cross-generational. For example, my 70 year old grandmother and 53 year-old father have tablets, while I do not. Suffice it to say, the drive-by media narrative that RNC viewership has plunged is likely a farce or at least grossly exaggerated. If anything, the media completely ignores the complexity of Americans relying more on the internet and new technology for their news.

The Clint

Full disclosure: I am a huge Eastwood fan. While I love his westerns, my favorite Eastwood movie is “Where Eagles Dare.” His “conversation” with America will go down in history as either amazingly brilliant and effective or hopelessly inept depending on the Presidential outcome. His dialogue was very intentional, pointed and quite hilarious at times. He had the audience eating out of his hand. The chair prop completely surprised Team Romney, but Mitt watched it backstage and apparently thought it was funny. Eastwood primarily wanted to talk to independents and Obama 2008 voters, and he dropped some serious bombs on Obama. The way he entered the stage even looked intentional. I cannot believe no one else has noticed or commented on his entrance. Every other RNC speaker I remember seeing walked on stage from a particular side. Not Clint. He centered himself backstage and walked directly forward. This added several steps to his entrance, and it looked like he was walking into a town ready for a gunfight. Simply put, his entrance itself was epic. His line “When someone isn’t doing the job, we’ve got to let [him] go” struck me as poignant and essentially summed up the election. Whatever one thinks of Eastwood’s performance, the fact that Obama hastily fired off a 12:30 AM tweet in reply signaled he thought Eastwood’s message resonated with Americans and merited a response. As Legal Insurrection aptly pointed out, that was not a tweet from a confident man. One observer from the American Thinker correctly compared Eastwood to an old respected Grandpa that says things no one else in the family wants to say but probably needs to say. You really just need to read the American Thinker analysis, because it is very convincing. I also think Mark Steyn at National Review sums up Eastwood’s performance quite well.

Romney’s Acceptance Speech

Mitt Romney gave a terrific speech. His non-standard entrance into the arena reflected outside-the-box thinking. Instead of entering the stage from behind a curtain like a movie star, Romney emerged from a tunnel, gave hugs and shook a lot of hands as he made his way to the podium. The entrance conjured up images of a President about to give the State of the Union address. Romney appeared simultaneously Presidential and populist. He gave a easy to understand conservative comeback plan which included lowering the tax burden on families and small businesses, repealing and replacing Obamacare and moving America to complete energy independence to jump start the economy. The liberal media immediately attacked the plan as vague and short on specifics. This attack line is standard operating procedure when liberals find themselves unable to argue against conservatism or point out any inaccuracies. Remember this criticism originated from the same liberal media which expressed endless news stories of praise, admiration and love for Obama, the man who inexplicably promised to lower the sea levels and heal the planet. I never remember hearing demands for specifics from the media sycophants after Obama delivered that speech riddled with absurdity and empty promises. After pointing out that every American president (with the exceptions of Carter and Obama) over the last several decades could accurately argue that life was better for Americans than when they’d assumed office, Romney made a very simple, reachable, and in light of his record, a reliable promise: he would make life better for Americans and their families.

A Night to Remember

One particular exciting memory in Tampa occurred Wednesday night. As an alternate delegate, I had a great seat about 15-20 rows almost directly from the stage. Only primary delegates sit on the floor. The pros are that primary delegates are closer to the stage and are afforded more opportunities to meet VIPs. It’s unquestionably the most exciting place to watch the convention. The down side is that the seating isn’t layered, so you may see an awful lot of the back of people’s heads. However, the camera guys are always working the delegate floor, so delegates usually appear on national television for reaction shots. Most delegates are older, distinguished party and elected officials. Wednesday night, I was sitting in the nosebleeds (spouses of alternates and guests are assigned the worst seats) with my wife minding my own business when I received an urgent text instructing us to get down to the delegate section ASAP for a photo op by the Tennessee sign with our local county delegation. We hustled down for the photo op and some of the primary delegates and our Tennessee liaison on the floor devised a strategy to get us past the ushers on the floor. The scheme worked masterfully. Amazingly, the ushers let us through. After our photo op, it suddenly dawned on us. We’re already on the floor. Why in the world would we go back to the nosebleeds? While the ushers stringently enforced access to the floor, they didn’t police the delegates already on the floor. Also to our good fortunate, many Tennessee delegates did not attend Wednesday nite (Thursday night is a different story—everybody and their mom showed up for Romney’s speech). So my wife and I sat in the very back section of our delegation area on the floor and watched Paul Ryan deliver a fabulous speech. I fired off a text to my family informing them we’d made it to the floor. If they were going to see us on national television, this was the night. To our surprise, we appeared not once, but twice on national television. My twitter, facebook and cell phone began blowing up almost immediately. Several friends photographed screenshots on their television and posted it to facebook and twitter. In a way, we shared the experience with them, and it became a very special night.

VIP Encounters

Tuesday night, my wife and I helped with an after-party for Tennessee delegates honoring our excellent Lieutenant Governor, Ron Ramsey. Gov. Rick Perry stopped by for about 30 minutes to express his thanks for Ramsey’s strong support during the primary. The opportunity to meet and grab a photo with Perry was memorable. In January, I campaigned for him in Iowa, and I was in the same room in Charleston, South Carolina when he announced his withdrawal from the race. Perry built an exceptional record of accomplishment in Texas, and I’m hopeful he will re-emerge onto the national stage and helped steer the country toward conservatism.

The day Perry announced his withdrawal from the campaign, I became an undecided GOP voter. That night, the GOP hosted its umpteenth Presidential debate in Charleston, and I managed to gobble up some tickets for me and my wife and parents who had arrived in the Columbia area earlier in the day to campaign for Perry prior to his announced withdrawal. We all entered the debate as undecideds, but we left as Santorum fans. We thought Santorum dominated the debate, and that may have been another pivotal moment that he solidified support among a large bloc of conservatives. After returning to Tennessee, I contacted our party chairman (who is a friend) and informed him I was backing Santorum and willing to serve as a delegate for him should the need arrive. Santorum later won Tennessee comfortably. On Thursday morning, Rick Santorum stopped by our delegation breakfast and gave a stirring speech explaining the stakes of this election for America. He declared America was about to have the most important elections of our lifetimes, and I could tell he truly meant it. Santorum showed great kindness patiently meeting with delegates and posing for pictures. I appreciated the opportunity to snap a picture with him.

Here’s a good reason why you always should be kind to staffers and party planners: they have the power to arrange memorable opportunities for you if they like you. Thursday morning, our delegation held a luncheon recognizing our Governor (Bill Haslam). Senator Lamar Alexander (a legend in Tennessee politics) was sitting near the front of the room at one of the VIP tables. Apparently, not all seats were going to be filled at his table, so a friend working the event asked us to sit at his table. I ended up sitting next to Alexander and thoroughly enjoyed conversing with him. We talked quite a bit about school choice (an issue near and dear to my heart as I have two young children), and I asked him about the back story of his unusual swearing in as governor (Alexander was sworn in three days early to replaced a notably corrupt Ray Blanton who incidentally landed on RealClearPolitics Ten Most Corrupt Politician’s List for accepting bribes to pardon vicious murderers. Alexander developed an excellent reputation as governor (brought Nissan and GM to our state) and took many steps to move Tennessee in a positive, conservative direction (although I wish he would lead as a solid conservative in the US Senate).As we prepared to fly back to Nashville, a friend informed me he had just met Karl Rove. I turned around and sure enough there he was. I walked over to “the Architect,” shook his hand and told him I enjoyed his book Courage & Consequence. Spotting my Army National Guard computer bag, Rove told me he appreciated me also. While Rove’s political analysis and commentary often drives me crazy, I deeply respect and appreciate him for the daily beatings by the drive-by media he absorbed on behalf of President Bush and conservatives for the years he worked in the White House. Many conservatives fail to realize the toll that takes on our leaders and their families.

Parting Thoughts

These experiences just don’t present themselves very often in normal, everyday life, but they occurred almost routinely in Tampa. I’m hopeful that, looking back, Tampa 2012 will mirror Detroit 1980. America desperately needs competent, principled leadership. I’m praying God will extend his mercy on our nation and allow us to end the Obama malaise in November. But I’m confident we will have to work very hard to accomplish this objective. My family and I are planning to campaign in a swing state for Romney. This election may be decided by a razor thin margin analogous to Bush-Gore in 2000. I agree completely with the sentiment Santorum expressed earlier in the week: our children will look back at this election and ask us what we did on behalf of our country. I hope to answer we worked as hard as possible to impact the outcome to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit.