Storm doesn’t diminish festive atmosphere in Florida

ST. PETERSBURG – Picture the mansion Burt Lancaster occupied in “The Leopard,” and now picture it on the beach next to the Gulf of Mexico, storm-darkened clouds on the water and the palm trees doing a tortured hula dance in the wind.

“Watch your step, this ain’t Highlands,” a Jersey accent cracked from a cranked down window as former Highlands Mayor Anna Little crossed the parking lot in front of the manse.

She’s taking on U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) this year after losing to Pallone in 2010.

From Tea Partier Little to the coziest long-term establishment party players, the New Jersey delegation appeared energized for this year’s Tampa celebration.

“This is my eleventh convention,” said Hunterdon County Republican Chairman Henry Kuhl.   

Off the record, some Republicans continued to bemoan the candidacy of certain GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, but the fact that Gov. Christie is slated to give the convention keynote kept people in lively spirits early.

Plus, delegation members said they now see a chance to win back the White House.

“Obama is beatable,” said state Sen. Kevin O’Toole. “Polls are showing the race neck and neck.”

Amid the revelry, the octogenarian Kuhl noted the palpable presence of Hurricane Isaac.

“They may have to come and get us,” said the veteran chairman, referring to St. Pete’s Beach’s potential to get cut off from the mainland, and didn’t act like that would be any big deal.

Middlesex County Republican Chairman Sam Thompson likewise looked unruffled amid the Titantic-like spendor of the veranda outside the ballroom where Christie delivered his hoo-rah speech.

“We went through this in Minneapolis four years ago,” Thompson said with a shrug, remembering that other storm-wracked event that a lot of tonight’s players survived unscratched.  

Storm doesn’t diminish festive atmosphere in Florida