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Isaac cools warm reception for top Republican donors

August 26, 2012|By Melanie Mason

TAMPA, Fla. – For top Republican donors trickling into town, the welcome has been decidedly muted, a result of the havoc that Tropical Storm Isaac has wreaked on GOP convention plans.

At the Westin in the ritzy Tampa enclave of Harbour Island, one of the designated lodging spots for the campaign's biggest givers, the lobby was thinly populated with guests sporting VIP badges and gift bags.

“The vibe is soggy,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist and CNN contributor who was roaming the Westin ready for rain in a yellow and navy jacket. “I think you have more people resorting to indoor activities than you might otherwise.”

The most visible signs of life emanated from a Romney Victory fund reception, closed to the press and designated for top donors and fundraisers for the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan campaign.

Paul and Susan Gilbert, first-time convention-goers, emerged with bulging canvas tote bags filled with GOP-themed swag, including Wisconsin cheese shaped like the state, a nod to the home of Ryan, Romney’s running mate.

“I didn’t even think about not coming,” said Paul Gilbert, a Phoenix lawyer who, along with his wife, Susan, has raised at least $250,000 for the Romney campaign. “I haven’t detected one bit of a damper. I think they’re canceling some of the activities on Monday, but everybody’s taking that in stride.”

But he acknowledged that since Monday’s convention proceedings had been canceled, he would probably spend the day in decidedly less glamorous fashion.

“Unfortunately, now we don’t have an excuse, we have to work,” Gilbert said. “I brought office work. That’s what I’m going to be doing.”

Top bundlers, those who have raised at least $500,000 for the campaign, were promised a busy convention week by the campaign, according to a schedule first published by Politico. The VIP package includes prime viewing of the floor proceedings, exclusive receptions and briefings with high-profile GOP officials, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

To partake, of course, the donors have to get to Tampa.

Fred Karlinsky, an insurance regulatory lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, was set to attend several functions for the state Republican Party, as well as watch Florida Gov. Rick Scott address the convention Monday night from the Florida GOP’s convention box. The storm upended his travel plans, but he won’t be missing out: The events have been called off as well.

“They were canceled in deference for the hurricane,” said Karlinsky, who now hopes to make it to Tampa on Wednesday.

And some of the party’s most prolific donors have opted out of the festivities entirely.

Fred Zeidman, a Houston-based venture capitalist, said his decision not to make the journey “had little to do with the weather, although once I saw what the weather was going to be like, it certainly took away any instinct I had to go.”

Zeidman, a veteran fundraiser, affirmed his strong support for Romney, but said that after attending four Republican conventions, he had little desire to deal with the harried logistics of convention travel.

“With the storm, it is going to be absolutely mind-boggling trying to get around,” he said.

Zeidman said a fair number of his friends, those who have been involved in Republican politics since President George H.W. Bush’s campaign, were also opting out.

“The younger guys are all going,” Zeidman said, including his son Jay, who, as of Sunday evening, was still in Houston, glued to weather reports, unclear of when he could actually arrive in Tampa.

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melanie.mason@latimes.com

Twitter: @melmason

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