Republican officials are hoping to derail a planned liberty event honoring Ron Paul –– the only GOP challenger left against Mitt Romney –– leading up to the GOP convention in Tampa, his backers say.
"I don't know why they want to upset the Ron Paul movement, because we're coming down there anyway," said Deborah Robinet, a southern California activist and organizer of the historic event, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "It just makes more sense for us to have an area where we can celebrate."
That area is the Florida State Fairgrounds, not far from the convention site in Tampa. It is one of the 73 official event venues for the Republican National Convention (RNC). But there's a catch, groups wanting to hold events there must get approval from the Republican Party's Committee on Arrangements, who controls which groups go to which venues.
So on March 29, the nonprofit group Liberty Unleashed — not a part of Paul's presidential campaign, but peopled by his supporters — applied with the convention to use the 355 acres of the Florida State Fairgrounds for the Paul Festival, which is planned as a multi-day music festival dedicated to the idea of personal liberty, currently scheduled for August 24 to 26, preceding the start of the GOP convention on August 27, according to a press release.
But last week, Robinet said, a Committee on Arrangements official told the planners the event hadn’t yet been approved and an OK might take two more weeks, cutting into the time needed for planning it, The Tampa Tribune reports.
But they don't have two weeks.
Organizers have received commitments from major celebrity speakers and top-tier musical talent. Festivalgoers will coming to town in "Ronvoys" — convoys of vans carrying 12 to 15 passengers from cities as far away as San Francisco, Milwaukee and Spokane, Wash.
"By delaying the release," Robinet explains, "the Republican leadership is actually denying conference organizers sufficient time to plan the event, which is expected to bring as many as 100,000 to Tampa."
Unless the RNC quickly releases the venue, which is just 10 miles from the site of the Republican National Convention, the event may not be able to go forward.
Waiting two weeks “is not an option,” she said. “We can’t sign talent, sell tickets, or raise money without a secured venue.”
In an email to backers last weekend, Robinet said Paul backers were told in April they could proceed with planning, and a contract signing was imminent.
“No one from the COA is being forthcoming with us, or the fairgrounds,” Robinet told The Tampa Tribune. “We are being toyed with.”
Screengrab from Ron Paul YouTube video
Screengrab from Ron Paul video
Not true, Committee on Arrangements spokesman James Davis said.
The committee is in the process of matching hundreds of requests from various groups with the 70 or so available venues, and that neither the Paul event nor any other event has been blocked.
"We haven't denied anyone on any venues," Davis said. "We're doing this on a rolling basis, and we're getting to this as quickly as we possibly can."
And State Fair director of sales and marketing Terri Parnell said the application was sent May 7, not March.
"With so many expected attendees and the potential economic opportunity for the Florida community," Robinet says, "it is difficult to understand why the RNC would not release the venue in a timely manner."
Frustrated at what they see as an RNC attempt to block their plans, festival organizers are reaching out to Paul's legions to put pressure on the GOP's convention staff.
"They've been fighting us all along," Robinet explains. "We're Republicans. Do they want to alienate us or do they want to bring us into the fold?"
And they have a message for the RNC: They aren't going away.
Some Republican party officials and Romney supporters say that's exactly what they are afraid of. Paul's libertarian beliefs have drawn him devoted enthusiastic supporters. According to U.S.News & World Report, they're concerned that the festival might be a prelude to demonstrations on the streets and protests on the convention floor by disappointed Paul backers who don't support Romney as the presumptive nominee.
Republican Party concerned about being upstaged
But some supporters of the movement don't believe that's the actual reason.
"The Republican Party’s apprehension over such an event is understandable," Thomas Mullenwrites in the Washington Times. "The RNC is supposed to be a three-day infomercial for the party that unites Republicans around their nominee for president."
Supporters of the Ron Paul revolution aren't surprised, Mullen writes, "reminiscent of Paul’s Rally for the Republic during the RNC in 2008, the event may have the Republican Party concerned about being upstaged again. The 2008 event sold out the Target Center in Minneapolis."
“The campaign itself is not so much into the chaos angle,” said political scientist Josh Putnam of Davidson College, one of the nation’s leading trackers of the primary process. Paul is “more interested in a long-term revolution, shaping things within the GOP establishment.”
The party’s problem, he told the Tribune, is simple: “Anything that goes off the script of unity behind Romney is something Romney and the Republican Party want to avoid.”