TAMPA, Florida -- A day of overcast skies gave way to a night of steady rain here Sunday, and a gusty breeze was ruffling the palm trees outside the mansion near the bay by the time former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was asked to speak at the private party.
"This is the most important presidential election of anybody in this room's lifetime," Barbour told the conservative bloggers and activists crowded into the living room. "I'm the oldest person in here, and there's never been an election in my lifetime with the consequences or the stakes in this election, because there's never been an election where the difference between the candidates of the two parties was greater."
Barbour's words inspired a respectful silence from the festive crowd at Blog Bash, the party that drew together a high-caliber contingent of conservative New Media operatives for a night of cheerful schmoozing with a lavish buffet and an open bar. Co-sponsored by the National Bloggers Club and Palladian View, a South Carolina-based digital magazine focused on conservative women, the event at the mansion on South Shore Crest Circle was one of hundreds of parties that will be attended this week by those in Tampa for the Republican National Convention. And they were partying with especial enthusiasm Sunday night because of the tropical storm that resulted in the cancellation of Monday's convention schedule.
The Republican Party will meet pro forma today, long enough to gavel itself into recess until Tuesday because of fears about Tropical Storm Isaac. Confronted with dire warnings about the possibility of a hurricane hitting Tampa with winds above 70 miles per hour and a dangerous tidal surge, GOP chairman Reince Priebus chose to err on the side of caution. "We're not going to put delegates on a bunch of buses between Clearwater and St. Petersburg when we can't predict how severe the wind is going to be and how bad the damage will be," Priebus said in a conference call Saturday, explaining the decision to scratch Monday's schedule.
Priebus's caution proved unnecessary, as Isaac veered west across the Gulf of Mexico toward the Louisiana coast. The center of the storm missed Tampa by 200 miles, producing steady rain Sunday night, but nothing near the potential catastrophe that had been hyped in the media for several days. The unreliability of the mainstream media is not exactly surprising to Republicans, and was part of the reason that Barbour, himself a former RNC chairman, came to the Blog Bash party at the mansion. Addressing an audience filled with such New Media celebrities as Dana Loesch of Breitbart.com and Katie Pavlich of Townhall.com, Barbour reminded them of an era when conservatives had a much harder time speaking back to the power of the liberal-leaning mainstream media.
"I grew up in the political world when, at 6:30 Eastern, 5:30 Central, 90 percent of the TV sets in the United States were on ABC, NBC or CBS," Barbour, 64, told the gathering, reminding them of a pre-Drudge, pre-Limbaugh, pre-Fox News media environment "where almost all the news that reached Americans was strained through the editorial boards of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Associated Press. For conservatives, that was a bad model. We are blessed today where people have all sorts of sources of information. You are really an important one of those sources."
Many of those in attendance were too young to remember the world described by Barbour, and can't imagine what political news was like before the rise of New Media. Even as Barbour spoke to the Blog Bash crowd, the Drudge Report was headlining a story from the website of a local Tampa TV station about an anti-RNC protester who was arrested while carrying a machete. Hundreds of left-wing protesters, many of them associated with the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, have descended on Tampa for Convention Week. The reported arrest of a weapon-wielding radical exacerbated fears of violence by the protest mobs, but it is unlikely that the anti-Republican demonstrators will pose any real safety threat, if only because of the extreme security measures deployed to protect the RNC.
The downtown area surrounding the convention venue is known as "the perimeter," and is surrounded by a vast law-enforcement contingent. "It's like the Green Zone in Baghdad -- it's scary," said one GOP consultant who attended Sunday's Blog Bash party. However potentially dangerous the anarchist mob might be, there isn't much chance they can penetrate the vigilant security cordon and disrupt this week's convention. Unworried about such disruptions, Republicans here are in a mood to party, but remain mindful of the seriousness of the stakes in the campaign ahead. When the convention finally begins Tuesday, there will be only 10 weeks remaining until Election Day, and when Haley Barbour addressed conservative bloggers Sunday night, he emphasized the importance of the campaign.
"You've got an obligation to your children and grandchildren to make sure Barack Obama goes back to Chicago… because we can't stand four more years of this," Barbour said. "Eight years of Obama is not twice as bad as four. There is an exponential damage that is done to our country if he gets four more years."
It was a serious warning, in some ways more serious than the hurricane warnings that had postponed the convention proceedings, as Republicans prepared to face the approaching storm of the fall campaign.
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