As Convention Day Winds Down, Tampa Hosts Republican (And Other) Parties
In Tampa, "Republican Party" can take on a whole new meaning as it gets later in the convention day. That's when delegates, lobbyists, business executives and others begin to mingle, filling up the city's nightspots.
NPR producer Brakkton Booker and I began Tuesday night with a trip to 7th Street in Ybor City, the Tampa neighborhood made famous for its cigar factories of the past. Now it's a mix of restaurants, bars and trendy shops similar to New Orleans' Bourbon Street.
There was a mostly young crowd lined up in front of the Amphitheater nightclub. Party attendees Taylor Schiller and Katie Glogowski had on their dancing attire — bikinis and fishnet stockings. It was a mixed political demographic here, including some Republicans — and some who don't identify with the GOP.
Rock the Vote, the nonpartisan group that works to engage young people in the political process, organized this party. Tampa is the first leg on its planned road trip that will also stop in Charlotte, N.C., next week in time for the Democratic National Convention.
The featured guest Tuesday night was not a politician but instead celebrity DJ Steve Aoki. In a dark room full of thumping music, flashing disco lights and a couple of bars, it was pandemonium as Aoki stepped up to the turntables.
"What's up, Tampa!" Aoki yelled, then urged everyone to vote.
Rock the Vote organizers have a goal of registering 1.5 million voters in time for the November election. It's not clear how enthusiastic young voters will be for either presidential nominee. A Gallup poll found that 58 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 say they will vote in the general election compared with the national average of 78 percent.
Four years ago, President Obama carried the youth vote. This year, Republicans are hoping Mitt Romney's running mate, 42-year-old Paul Ryan, will garner some attention and votes from younger Americans.
The last stop on our night out was the Honey Pot for "Homocon," a party organized by GOProud, a group that reaches out to gay and straight conservatives.
Will Clark, who just retired from the Navy after 30 years, was taking it all in — silver confetti, the dancers on four stages and the crowd on the floor.
"This party, right here, is proof positive that they are opening their eyes to the fact that there's a lot of gay Republicans," saids Clark. "This is 2012. I mean, it's time to kind of get with this."
Clark said he's excited about the presidential race and expects a close election.
Tuesday night, though, it was all about dancing.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And finally this hour, a lighter side of political conventions. They're famous for their nightlife, and it's not all bigwigs hobnobbing over martinis. NPR's Cheryl Corley has this postcard from some of Tampa's convention hot spots.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: NPR producer Brakkton Booker and I began our hunt for Republican revelers with a trip to 7th Street in Ybor City, the Tampa neighborhood made famous for its cigar factories of the past. Now, it's a mix of restaurants, bars and trendy shops. And this night, there's a mostly young crowd lined up for a Rock the Vote event. Are you a Republican or not?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: No.
CORLEY: No? Well, Rock the Vote does call itself nonpartisan, and it didn't look to a politician to draw a crowd to the Amphitheater nightclub. Instead, the headliner is...
TAYLOR SCHILLER: Steve Aoki.
KATIE GLOGOWSKI: (Singing) Can't wait to party.
CORLEY: Eighteen-year-olds Taylor Schiller and Katie Glogowski had on their party duds: bikinis and fishnet stockings. Are you a Republican?
MARTHA ZUERKO: I am a registered Republican, gun-toting, not friendly.
CORLEY: Martha Zuerko(ph), a longtime fan of electronic dance music, said it was very smart if the Republicans played any role in getting the famous DJ to Tampa.
ZUERKO: Because this is exactly what's hot right now, what will get the people coming out here for them to try to sway.
CORLEY: So inside a dark room full of thumping music, flashing disco lights and a couple of bars, it was pandemonium when Aoki stepped up to the turntables.
STEVE AOKI: What's up, Tampa?
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
CORLEY: Aoki raises his arms, yells his famous whoop-whoop and urges everyone to vote. Down the street, we see a strip joint called Skin that promises free admission to Republicans who have a convention badge. We passed that right by. Instead, we drop in on the Honey Pot nightclub for Homocon. It's a party organized by GOP GOProud, a group which reaches out to gay and straight conservatives.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Enjoy your evening, sir.
CORLEY: Here, we find swirling silver confetti and plenty of Republicans. Will Clark, who just retired from the Navy after 30 years, is taking it all in.
WILL CLARK: This party right here is proof positive that they are opening their eyes to the fact that there's a lot of gay Republicans. It's time to kind of get with this.
CORLEY: Clark says he's excited about the presidential race and expects a close election. This night, though, is about the music, the dancers and the Tampa party scene. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.