Connecticut’s GOP heads to Tampa with high expectations, little status

Washington — Connecticut’s GOP, a minority in the state, is also likely to be a minority at the party’s national convention in Tampa, where more conservative voices will speak louder, sit in better seats and stay in more convenient hotels.

That doesn’t faze Jerry Labriola, the chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party and the leader of the state’s 53-member delegation: 28 official delegates and 25 alternates.

“I’ll hopefully give them a great delegation experience and the time of their lives,” Labriola said.

Labriola and a few other Connecticut delegates arrived in Tampa early to lay the groundwork for the convention.

The rest of the cream of Connecticut’s Republican Party will begin arriving in Tampa this weekend for a convention that’s expected to draw as many as 50,000 people to town, 2,286 of them delegates.

Taking place in the cavernous Tampa Bay Times Forum, the convention begins Monday afternoon with an invocation and will end Thursday evening with acceptance speeches by former Gov. Mitt Romney and his choice for vice president Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Because of concerns about Tropical Storm Isaac and about support for Romney’s former GOP rival, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the Republican National Committee is moving up the roll call vote from Wednesday to Monday evening. Because the roll call is alphabetical, Connecticut’s delegation will be among the first to cast their votes.

Paul has delegates that he’s not released and there’s been squabbling over the seating of some of them, especially a delegation from Maine. According to GOP rules, the support of a plurality of delegates from at least five states allows a candidate to put his name into nomination and make a speech.

The four days will be filled with political rhetoric and even some intrigue, but little drama as Romney has wrapped up more than enough delegates — including all of Connecticut’s — to win the nomination.

In many states, including Massachusetts and New York, state party conventions hold votes to select delegates to national conventions. But in Connecticut, GOP officials chose them, a mix of elected officials and party activists. Because Romney won Connecticut’s GOP primary, all of the state’s delegates are pledged to him.

The Connecticut delegation has also invited about 60 “guests” to the convention, many of them family members and large donors.

House Republican Leader Larry Cafero said he was chosen as a delegate because he’s an honorary chairman of the Romney campaign in Connecticut and the state’s highest-ranking Republican elected official.

He said the convention aims to “galvanize the base” and showcase some of the GOP’s rising stars, including some House and Senate candidates, as well as working to defeat President Obama.

“This year we will run against an incumbent, so the energy will be extremely high,” Cafero said.

The last time a Republican candidate was able to unseat an incumbent Democrat was 40 years ago, when Jimmy Carter occupied the White House.

Platform, and agendas

Besides boosting Romney, some Connecticut delegates may be looking to improve their own political future.

Cafero and fellow delegates former Rep. Chris Shays, who lose the Senate primary to Linda McMahon, and Tom Foley, who unsuccessfully ran against Dannel Malloy for governor, may start testing the waters for a gubernatorial run in 2014.

State Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby also traveled to Tampa earlier this week as a member of the platform committee.

The platform details the party’s position on a host of issues. It includes a “Human Life Amendment” that calls for a ban on abortion, without mention of the more common exceptions for victims of rape or incest. There are also tough anti-gay marriage and immigration planks in the platform.

Klarides, who is pro-choice, said she argued against the gay marriage and abortion planks, to no avail.

The controversial platform underscores that the national GOP has marched to the right.

Klarides said she can agree with the planks on economic issues, but said Northeast Republicans can’t embrace the platform’s social agenda.

She predicted Connecticut’s delegates will huddle with the convention’s other moderate Republicans from neighboring states like New York and Massachusetts.

“We all joke that if we are in the South or Midwest, we wouldn’t be allowed in the Republican Party,” Klarides said. “But when you are in a group like this, it really hits home.”

Another member of the platform committee, state Sen. Scott Frantz, skipped the platform debate altogether because of a “scheduling conflict.”

But he’s eager to travel to Tampa this weekend, although wary of Isaac.

“When you leave a convention you feel you’ve done something good for the country,” he said.

Corporate-sponsored fun

While every evening will be spent at the convention hall listening to speakers, it won’t be all work for Connecticut’s delegates.

They’ll attend a whirl of lunches, parties and receptions and even go on a short cruise. Much of the tab for these social activities, and even the delegates’ breakfasts, will be picked up by corporate sponsors. AT&T, Aetna, Dominion Resources Services Inc., Nestle Waters North American and RR Donnelley Inc., have already signed up as sponsors of the delegation’s events.

But not every Connecticut Republican will join in the fun.

Staying home

Some of the state’s highest-profile Republicans, including Senate candidate McMahon and House candidate Andrew Roraback, running for the 5th Congressional District, have decided to stay on the campaign trail and skip the convention.

“I didn’t discourage her from campaigning,” said Connecticut Republican Party chief Labriola. “And I’d rather have Roraback raising money and preparing for the fall campaign.”

Labriola, at his first national convention, has a rather quixotic mission.

He hopes to persuade the Romney campaign and the Republican National Party to spend time and money in Connecticut, a true “blue” state.

“I’ve been pushing them since last spring to not write us off,” said Labriola, encouraged by polls that show Romney trailing Obama by 8 percentage points in Connecticut.

Obama won the state by 23 points over Sen. John McCain in 2008.

Little status

There’s a pecking order at national party conventions.

Delegations from the president and vice president’s home states are given preference and usually the best seats in the convention hall. Then comes vital swing states like Ohio and Virginia. Then loyal Republican states.

Connecticut, and other strongly Democratic states — especially small ones with few electoral votes — usually receive the least desirable hotels and nosebleed seats at the convention hall.

While delegates from Mitt Romney’s home state of Massachusetts stay a short walk from the convention venue, for example, the Connecticut contingent is assigned to the seaside Bilmar Beach Resort hotel, a 50-minute drive from the convention center. The resort will also house the North Dakota delegation.

Cafero said Connecticut’s lack of clout can be expected because there are no Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation and Connecticut’s governor is a Democrat.

“For the first time in a generation, Connecticut is a one-party state,” he said.