Heard on the Hill

From Empty Promises to Full Bellies

(Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call)

TAMPA, Fla. — “Would you vote for me?”

The plaintive plea came not from GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, newly minted vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (Wis.) or any other rising Republican star, but from a down-and-out exotic dancer running a grass-roots campaign to win a scheduled “Sarah Palin lookalike” contest at a local strip joint.

According to a number of absolutely despondent hospitality workers, times were tough enough before the Republicans co-opted their town to have a grand ol’ party.

Things are downright miserable now.

Smothering police presence (think: dozen-plus deputies in full riot gear on every other street corner) and natural geographic barriers — state delegations and attending media are scattered between Tampa, Clearwater (due west) and St. Petersburg (several miles to the south) — have blindsided businesses that fully expected to clean up this week.

Of course, some folks are doing better than others. Show Them the Money

"C’mon, tip these girls. We don't pay them to be here," the club Déjà Vu disc jockey blurts out in a backhanded attempt at solidarity.

Even after pushing free admission passes into the hands of passersby in Ybor City and plotting a slate of politically themed events (they had attempted to also recruit Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mitt Romney lookalikes), this particular den of flesh was a virtual ghost town.

Instead of fighting off gropers or losing wads of crumpled singles from bulging garters, dancers thumbed BlackBerrys and stared vacantly at sports highlights flickering across the TV.

The most enterprising unabashedly draped themselves all over the two solo gents who had come to indulge in some discretionary spending. Some swingers — she, nuzzling her man’s neck, urging him toward the stage; he, only to happy to oblige — were the only ones feeding bills to the whirling, twirling girls who graced the main stage.

Although we waited almost an hour for the would-be Palins to work the pole, nary a single faux hockey mom materialized.

Across town at the BuzzFeed party, one guest, rather than being entertained by the featured mermaids, insisted on politicizing the aquatic party favors.

"That's so weird. They won't need to do that in a Romney economy," he informed a designer-suited associate.

A Taste of the Good Life

The mood was remarkably lighter at the snazzy Taste of Southern Hospitality reception held at Raymond James Stadium.