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Star-Telegram.com

Texas GOP not feeling as much love as usual in 2012 campaign

Posted Sunday, Jul. 29, 2012

By Anna M. Tinsley

atinsley@star-telegram.com

The red carpet does not appear to be out for Texas this year.

At least not for those attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

The Texas GOP has been in the spotlight nationally as party leaders stream into the state to campaign for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst or former Solicitor General Ted Cruz in Tuesday's bruising Republican runoff for the U.S. Senate.

And for decades, Texans were treated like royalty - with choice seating and hotel assignments - at conventions once every four years, mainly because a Bush was either on the ballot or in the White House.

Not this year.

Texas Republicans' hotel rooms are about 25 miles from the convention site, a stark contrast to their location in Minnesota within walking distance four years ago, when George W. Bush was preparing to leave the White House.

Texas Republican Chairman Steve Munisteri has called the assignments "demoralizing."

"It makes no sense to us that you would put a delegation which has such as large number of people the second-farthest away from the convention," he told The Washington Times. "Other than Florida, I think we're in the least desirable location, and Florida is being punished for not going by RNC rules, so we're trying to figure out why we're being punished."

Some political insiders say Texas, which consistently delivers the biggest chunk of GOP electoral votes in presidential elections, shouldn't feel slighted.

"The Texas delegation has been treated like kings for a while now," said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant who works with both Republicans and Democrats. "Now they are being treated like everyone else. It feels like poor treatment, but it's how most states are treated most of the time."

At least one Texan - a first-time alternate to the convention, Justin Machacek - said he has bigger things to worry about than hotel assignments.

"We're on the edge of a fiscal cliff, the government is taking our God-given rights, our culture is slipping further into dependency and immorality and the concern is that we're too far from the convention hall?" said Machacek, who serves on the national advisory board of the evangelicals for Ron Paul coalition. "I think we need to prioritize and focus on winning elections."

The Republican National Convention will be Aug. 27-30.

For nearly three decades, either George W. Bush or his father, George H.W. Bush, topped the ballot as a presidential or vice presidential candidate, meaning the delegation from Texas, their home state, received top-notch convention assignments.

Importance and clout

"Assignments do equate importance and clout," Miller said. "That's just the way it is, whether it's at a sporting event or a political event. It's always the same.

"Everybody wants to be close," he said. "That's where the action is."

This year, Texas' 304 delegates and alternates will be staying at the Saddlebrook Resort, known as "Florida's quintessential meeting resort," which features 45 tennis courts, a European-style spa, two 18-hole Arnold Palmer signature golf courses and space to host an event for 2,000 people.

And they face a commute to the convention site, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, unlike any they've seen in recent years.

Convention officials have said this was not a political decision, but a logistical one, and they assigned Texans to the resort to make sure they could keep the delegation entirely within one hotel.

Maybe so.

Political observers say there also could be other reasons including that Texas is a sure thing, not a swing state; Gov. Rick Perry has tussled with presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on the national political stage; and Perry endorsed Newt Gingrich when jumping out of the presidential race.

Whatever the reason, "you save the perks for state delegations that need extra incentive to work hard in the fall," said Larry Sabato, a political analyst and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Limited space

Convention organizers have said hotel space is limited near downtown Tampa, where most of the convention events will be, and many delegations are booked at hotels within three counties.

Delegations from Florida and South Carolina appear to be farthest from the convention, more than 30 miles away at the Innisbrook golf and spa resort in Palm Harbor. Some speculate that those assignments may be because those states moved up their presidential primary elections, violating RNC rules.

But the Texas delegation isn't far from those delegations.

And while organizers are shuttling delegates to the convention site, the area's reputation for congested roadways could mean a long commute.

First-time national delegate and Tarrant County Republican Chairwoman Jennifer Hall said she isn't worried about the accommodations.

"They are providing transportation for us," she said. "Not having been before, I haven't been focused on where we are staying. The state party is doing a great job handling it so we don't have any issues as delegates."

Texas Democrats have long enjoyed less-than-prime hotel assignments at their party's national convention, as their party officials recognize that Texas' vote, as a whole, likely will go to the Republican presidential candidate.

For that reason alone, Tarrant County Democratic Chairman Steve Maxwell said he's surprised Texas Republicans don't have better hotel assignments.

"Texas is the star of the Republican Party," he said. "I would have thought Texas being such a shining light would have gotten them closer. Maybe with the advantage being gone, with a Bush out of the White House, maybe that's the way it goes."

"Great experience"

Convention officials have said the long process of assigning delegations to hotels takes much into account, including the group's size.

Fifty-six delegations will attend the convention: one for each state, plus the U.S. territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Convention officials said delegates will be housed in 36 hotels in three counties near the convention. Dozens of other hotels will be used for convention visitors, GOP officials and media.

"The Tampa Bay area is one of America's premiere vacation and business destinations," convention CEO William Harris has said. "So wherever you're staying, you're going to have a great experience."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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