Fla. delegates housed at resort far from GOP convention site

PALM HARBOR -- Florida’s convention delegates and party faithful streamed into the Innisbrook Golf and Spa resort over the weekend, right on schedule, as the hurry-up and wait for convention activities began. They were handed white bags with blue trim, loaded with Republican National Convention goodies, from water bottles to a beach towel.

But if the gray clouds, persistent drizzle and Tropical Storm Isaac warnings weren’t enough to dampen the mood in the swank, sprawling resort, the lack of convention buzz certainly was.

The conventioneers face an hour long drive, each way, to get to the Tampa Bay Times Forum and convention headquarters. Buses have been reserved for the trips but travelers were urged to be vigilant about departure times.

This is the Republican equivalent of Siberia. Comfortable and lovely, the resort features a golf course, spa, swimming pools and restaurants. It is owned by Sheila Johnson, co-founder of the BET network and a major Democratic contributor.

But it’s not Tampa. In fact, door-to-door, it is 25 miles away from the convention hall. The closest thing to the convention: three TV monitors set to Fox News in the darkened meeting hall.

Also at the resort: the delegation from South Carolina. Both states are being punished for state legislative leaders setting the presidential primary in January in violation of party rules.

"We welcome our partners in primary purgatory,’’ Commissioner Adam Putnam announced at a morning breakfast Monday as both Florida and South Carolina delegates and guests met officially for the first time.

Also addressing them was Gov. Rick Scott, who briefed them on the status of the storm. "The RMC was so nice to us, we don’t have to worry about the beach,’’ he joked.

The storm forced the delegates to cancel plans for an evening at Busch Gardens on Monday.

But organizers were prepared in the event conventioneers wanted to play inside. RMC sponsor, Disney, had set up a miniature version of Cinderella’s castle in the Innisbrook meeting hall. The space also features two bars and a floor filled with game tables — foosball, air hockey, ping pong and pool. Sunday night, the room was used for delegate karaoke.

Florida Republican Party leader Lenny Curry, who told the Tampa Bay Times in May that he was "p----- off’’ at the hotel accommodations when they were announced by the RMC officials, convened the quarterly meeting of the party executive committee and reminded them, "It wasn’t your decision."

Notably absent from the Sunday meeting were the legislators who led the charge for the primary switch — such as Rep. Carlos Lopez Canter, R-Miami, a member of the executive committee.

Said Curry back in May: "We’re one of the most important swing states, if not the most important swing state, and our activists and our donors are going to be punished for something they had nothing to do with."