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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Florida Ex-Governor Backs Obama


Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor of Florida who became a pariah in his party when he ran for the Senate as an independent, formally endorsed President Obama on Sunday.

“President Obama has a strong record of doing what is best for America and Florida, and he built it by spending more time worrying about what his decisions would mean for the people than for his political fortunes,” Mr. Crist wrote in a column in The Tampa Bay Times. “That's what makes him the right leader for our times, and that's why I'm proud to stand with him today.”

Lenny Curry, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said in a statement that Mr. Crist was “trying to shed his skin for a political comeback.”

“Despite the threat Florida is facing from a severe storm, Charlie Crist has demonstrated, yet again, that his political ambition will always come before the needs of Floridians,” Mr. Curry said.

Herman Cain Gives a Fiery Speech to Tea Party Rally in Tampa


TAMPA, Fla. â€" Far from the official convention grounds, at an alternate unity rally in a church made up mostly of Tea Party supporters, the former presidential hopeful Herman Cain gave a keynote speech to a roaring crowd of several hundred, explaining why he had come to Florida: “I'm still on a mission to defeat Barack Obama!”

In recent months, Mr. Cain, a former Republican presidential contender, has been quietly promoting the tax plan that was the centerpiece of his platform, a simplified code that he called 9-9-9. He quit the race earlier this year after accusations of sexual harassment eclipsed his message and caused his campaign operation to implode.

This evening, at a Tampa Bay Church, ho wever, Mr. Cain revisited the episode and blamed his early exit on “lies and dirty politics.”

Then he said he still had work to do: Educate the country about “the ABC's: American Black Conservatives.” And he said he wasn't at all concerned about not getting a speaking role at the Republican National Convention.

“It's not about me, it's about the grandkids,” he said, repeating a line he often used on the campaign trail during the primaries. “That's what a lot of people don't understand about what Herman is up to.”

Mr. Cain, a former pizza chain executive, appeared at the church rally after Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, also a former presidential contender, addressed the crowd.

In an apparent reference to the approaching tropical storm which is disrupting the beginning of the convention, Ms. Bachmann said the country is experiencing “a spiritual hurricane.”

Others praised the Tea party movement and claimed much success in shaping the official party platform, particularly in regard to restricting abortion rights and same-sex marriage. But the evening was also a pep rally of sorts, meant to lift the spirits of those who feel shut out from the mainstream party and its convention.

“There were some people who hoped you all wouldn't show up,” Mr. Cain said. “Y'all fooled them!”

\'Obama\'s America\' Is a Box-Office Surprise


The movie capital didn't see this coming: The political documentary “2016: Obama's America,” a cinematic extension of the best-selling book “The Roots of Obama's Rage,” beat two new Hollywood releases at the weekend box office and came very close to passing a third. “Obama's America,” released by Rocky Mountain Pictures, took in an estimated $6.2 million at North American theaters, for a total of $9.1 million since opening in limited release last month. Two new movies - “Hit & Run” (Open Road Films) and “The Apparition” (Warner Brothers) - flopped, taking in less than $4.7 million each. Another new release, “Premium Rush” (Sony), managed to take in only $6.3 million.

Still, “Obam a's America” couldn't crack the top five, which were all holdovers. “The Expendables 2” (Lionsgate) was No. 1, taking in about $13.5 million for a two-week total of $52.3 million, according to Hollywood.com, which compiles box-office data. Universal's “Bourne Legacy” was second, selling about $9.3 million in tickets, for a three-week-total of $85.5 million. “ParaNorman” (Focus Features) was a third, taking in about $8.5 million and lifting its two-week total to $28.3 million. Fourth place went to “The Campaign” (Warner), which sold about $7.4 million in tickets, for a three-week total of $64.5 million. And Warner's “Dark Knight Rises” was fifth, with Batman taking in another $7.2 million for a six-week total of about $422.2 million.

Storm Poses Risks for Republican Convention Planners


TAMPA, Fla. - It looks to be one of the worst nightmares for planners of Mitt Romney's coronation.

At the height of the Republican National Convention this week, a potential Category 2 hurricane bearing winds greater than 100 miles per hour appears likely to slam into the Gulf Coast, perhaps close to the already battered city of New Orleans.

Searing images of wind-damaged homes, flooding and mass evacuations - all fraught with the memory of Hurricane Katrina - may well compete on television with Mr. Romney's bid to seize the initiative in his battle with President Obama for the White House.

“Images of revelry by Republicans at a time of suffering by other Americans - no party wants those optics,” said Steve Schmidt, who helped lead Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. “You have terrible awareness of all that stuff.”

Four years ago, Mr. Schmidt and other Republicans postponed the firs t day of the Republican convention in Minneapolis as an even larger hurricane headed through the gulf toward New Orleans. Mr. Schmidt said the fact that the canceled day would have fallen on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, was foremost in their minds.

“The optics of that were not good,” Mr. Schmidt recalled.

Four years later - on virtually the same anniversary - Isaac, still a tropical storm, seems likely to miss Tampa, where as many as 50,000 delegates and journalists are gathered. After canceling Monday's activities, organizers said they were optimistic that the storm would not prevent the convention from proceeding on Tuesday.

Organizers have not yet released an updated schedule. (A conference call is planned for later Sunday afternoon.) As of midday, many of the delegates were still attempting to fly into Tampa.

But even if the logistics in Tampa are doable, the Republican party's organizers and Mr. Romney's strategists must confront the political baggage that could come with pushing ahead with the minutely-produced celebration.

They could continue with the convention on Tuesday, fitting in as many of the speakers from Monday into the remaining three days. Essentially, they would be challenging the news networks to stay with them despite the storm.

If the storm peters out in the gulf, or wreaks less damage than expected, that decision could end up being a good one, providing Mr. Romney with just the kind of attention in front of millions of viewers that his campaign has planned for.

The danger is that the storm might intensify and cause a major humanitarian disaster - and news story - even as Representative Paul D. Ryan, the vice-presidential nominee, gives his speech and then Mr. Romney formally accepts his nomination.

Planners could decide to truncate the convention even more, canceling Tuesday's activities or scaling back the festivities and s peeches on some of the other days, out of deference to the imagery coming from the gulf.

But that carries risks, too. Mr. Romney is waging what appears to be a close race against Mr. Obama, and his campaign has been counting on the impact of the convention to present his argument for change to the largest audience Mr. Romney will likely have before the election in November.

In a conference call several days ago, Russ Schriefer, a senior strategist for Mr. Romney who is producing the convention, said the week would be critically important.

“This convention is going to talk about Gov. Romney, all aspects of his life, and really highlight his leadership skills,” Mr. Schriefer said at the time.

Cutting back the convention even further would rob the campaign of a chance to make that case in the way they had been planning. It would probably mean that some high-profile speakers like Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, or Senator Marco Rubio of Fl orida, might lose their opportunity to address the convention.

That, in turn, would make it harder for Mr. Romney to present the kind of message that he wants ahead of the final nine weeks of the campaign after the party conventions.

“You want Chris Christie up there. You want to see Marco Rubio. You want Paul Ryan not to be crowded with a lot of other personalities,” Mr. Schmidt said. “There's no other moment like this in the campaign, where the party has the ability to communicate to an audience of tens of millions of people who pay attention.”

Zombie Candidate Crashes Republican Convention


And they say President Obama and Mitt Romney can be stiff.

A. Zombie, billed as the nation's first Zombie presidential candidate, will appear in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, headlining the “Zombie Convention within a Convention” to kick off the weather-delayed Republican National Convention.

With his finger on the pulse of the people, he is running on a platform that emphasizes job creation (“I'll strive to increase America's workforce… even if it kills me again,”) and health care (“I am pro-Zombiecare. Don't be caught dead without it.”)

But like many third-party candidates, Mr. Zombie is focused on one issue: getting AMC's post-apocalyptic drama “The Walking Dead” back on Dish Network.

The publicity stunt comes after Dish cut ties with AMC Networks this summer in the midst of a contract dispute, which Dish said had nothing to do with the decision to drop the network's channels: AMC, IFC, WE t v and the Sundance Channel. Dish said it came to its decision by comparing AMC Network's high renewal cost to its low ratings.

While the ratings for IFC, WE tv and the Sundance Channel aren't strong, “The Walking Dead” is basic cable's highest-rated drama of all time among 18- to 49-year-olds, according to The Nielsen Company.

With the third season of the popular drama starting Oct. 14, the A. Zombie campaign is urging Dish customers to push back against the decision and find a new television provider before the series returns.

The stunt is well-choreographed, with a Web site, a campaign ad, a Twitter feed and a cross-country bus tour that kicked off with Mr. Zombie declaring his candidacy - with the help of his human wife, naturally, because zombies can't talk - in San Diego, Calif., last week. Coming up on the schedule is a pro-Zombie rally at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 3.

Mr. Zo mbie isn't the only candidate who planned on crashing the Republican National Convention. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. originally planned a campaign stop in Tampa on Monday, but changed his plans, citing the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac.

Romneys Talk Issues, and Fashion, in Joint Interview


As the Republican Party prepares this week to offer a more full introduction of Mitt Romney, the candidate and his wife sat down for a rare joint television interview, covering some of the heavier topics of the day â€" Medicare, taxes and abortion â€" but also lighter fare, like Mr. Romney's preference for shirts from a certain well-known discount chain.

The interview, with Fox News Sunday, was carried out around the kitchen island in the Romney's comfortable vacation home in Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H. Adding to the relaxed warmth of the setting, family members of the oldest son, Tagg, stood around the island.

The interviewer, Chris Wallace, teased the Romneys â€" they claim their favorite maple syrup is from New Hampshire, a swing state, not Vermont â€" but pressed them on meatier questions as well.

Asked about the tax returns showing he has had accounts in places sometimes associated with tax evasion, Mr. Romney insisted not only that he had paid all taxes legally due but that those accounts had saved him nothing.

“There was no reduction, not one dollar of reduction in taxes, by virtue of having an account in Switzerland or a Cayman Islands investment,” he said. “Those â€" the dollars of taxes remained exactly the same.”

He seemed to take offense at suggestion by Democrats' to the contrary. “They're trying to make that seem like it's some unsavory action,” Mr. Romney said. To suggest that a candidate should have no foreign investments, he went on, could lead to an extreme rejection of all things foreign â€" not only no overseas investments, but, “by the way, don't buy any foreign products, don't have any Japanese TVs or foreign cars.”

But, he said, “I did live my life” and people are free to judge his choices.

In a year when both presidential candidates have had to spend huge amounts of time fund-raising, M r. Romney said that, if he runs in 2016, he would happily agree with his opponent to accept federal matching funds, which put a ceiling on a candidate's spending.

“Oh, absolutely,” he said, noting that Barack Obama, as a candidate in 2008, had rejected matching funds so he could raise unlimited amounts of money.
The result, Mr. Romney said, was that both candidates had to raise “an inordinate amount of time” fundraising. “And, frankly, it increases the potential of money having influence in politics.”

Meantime, after months of shying away from the health-care plan he helped bring to Massachusetts as governor, Mr. Romney raised it himself when asked about the divisive comments by Representative Todd Akin of Missouri about rape and abortion.

“Well, first of all,” he said, “with regards to women's health care, look, I'm the guy that was able to get health care for all of the women and men in my state.” He said he had done so without cu tting Medicare or raising taxes, adding, “I'm very proud of what we did.”

Similar comments by a Romney spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, had provoked a furious reaction from conservative commentators who said it was a huge blunder for the Romney camp to call attention to a plan that was considered something of a model for Mr. Obama's own plan.

Mr. Wallace did his best to prompt Mr. Romney to show a more personal side. He determined, among other things, that Mr. Romney does know his way around a grocery store; he quite likes the inexpensive Kirkland-brand shirts from the Costco discount chain, sometimes ironing them himself (the Romneys have no domestic help at the lake); and his grandchildren call him “Papa.”

They call Mrs. Romney “Mamie,” he said, adding that “for a blessed while, we were Ike and Mamie.”

Added Mrs. Romney, lest there be any confusion, “It's a joke.”

Ron Paul Rally Strikes Tone Critical of Republican Party


TAMPA, Fla. â€" Thousands of boisterous supporters of the libertarian Republican presidential contender Ron Paul filled the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida on Sunday afternoon, striking a deeply critical tone against the Republican Party and its convention that begins here this week.

“Commentators will say that this is the extreme wing of the Republican Party,” said Doug Wead, the master of ceremonies and first of a long list of scheduled speakers. It is not, he said, adding, “Their meeting starts tomorrow a few miles away.”

The rally, on the eve of the kickoff of the Republican's nominating convention, was seen as an unpredictable element in an otherwise highly scripted week for the party, as legions of fans of Mr. Paul, a longtime House member from Texas, descended upon Tampa, with their larger intentions somewhat unclear. Would they try to disrupt the convention? Or distract from the moment in the spotlight for Mitt Romney, as he accepts the party's nomination?

For the moment, any agitation is limited to this highly organized rally, where many people are carrying signs and shouting for the elimination of the I.R.S. and the Federal Reserve banking system, sometimes even expressing disagreement among themselves.

“End the Fed! End the Fed!” a member of the audience interrupted while Walter E. Block, a libertarian professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, spoke about abortion and the importance of “saving babies.”

“Go home!” some other audience members protested.

The crowd seemed to grow impatient for Mr. Paul himself, instead of the dozens of surrogates who are in line to speak.

“If a libertarian can't come to a place like this and get a hearing without being booed, then we're a disgrace,” Mr. Block said.

Mr. Paul was not expected to be onstage for several hours.

Earlier, Mr. W ead said that when Mr. Paul does arrive on stage, “I promise you today, Ron Paul will get more than 89 seconds.”

The remark was a swipe at the organizers of the debates during the primary, when Mr. Paul often was not given as much attention as the other candidates.

Mr. Wead also referred to Mr. Paul as “a clean boat in a sea of garbage” and rejected the idea that the libertarian rally was a distraction from the official convention. “Isaac is a distraction,” he said of the approaching hurricane. “This is liberty.”

As Protests Loom, Videographers Gather in Tampa


The white and blue bus sat atop a small plot near the edge of downtown Tampa that had recently been renamed “Romneyville” as protesters from around the country gathered to pitch tents and unroll sleeping bags.

Blue lettering spelled out the words Mobile Broadcasting News on the side of the bus. Inside, the vehicle was outfitted with sleeping bunks, sconce lights and a ventilation fan.

Working in the cramped interior were Chappell Howard and Flux Rostrum, who sat at wooden tables where three laptop screens displayed images that had been recorded on video earlier that day.

Mr. Rostrum, who has traveled the country for years filming protests, said that the bus, a 1995 International Bluebird that runs on recycled vegetable oil, would be a headquarters for people documenting rallies, marches and other street actions during both the Republican and Democratic conventions.

As protesters tricked into Tampa before the convention, videographers were joined by another sort of documentarian, called livestreamers, who broadcast events onto the Web in real time as they are unfolding.

That sort of immediate dissemination of raw footage, Mr. Rostrum said, had provided a potent tool to show interactions between police and the public and to create a record of fleeting, sometimes chaotic moments that otherwise might be lost to conflicting memories.

“They can't say you're editing it and twisting the story,” he said on Friday. “It's live happening right in front of you.”

During the convention, he said, he and others would be airing their footage on the Mobile Broadcast Web site.

Video has played a significant ro le during recent conventions and large-scale protests. Mr. Rostrum was among a group of people who contributed footage from the 2004 convention in New York to a collective called I-Witness Video. After the convention, video assembled by the group was used as evidence to refute testimony by police officers in a court case involving the mass arrests of hundreds of protesters.

Four years later, during the Republican gathering in St. Paul, officers surrounded a house where about a dozen I-Witness members were staying, handcuffed them and held them for hours. None of the collective members were arrested but they said that the authorities looked through their computers and cameras.

Livestreaming was widely used by people connected to the Occupy Wall Street protests that began in New York last fall and then spread to dozens of other cities.

Mr. Rostrum said that he was running a 24-hour livestream from the bus that showed “Romneyville,” which was organized b y a group called the Poor People's Economic Human Rights campaign. He said the stream showed the evolution of the encampment, which sprung up on Aug. 20 on a lot rented from an army navy surplus store that stands about a mile from the Tampa Bay Times Forum where the Republican delegates will gather.

Mr. Rostrum said that before arriving in Florida he had been in West Virginia with his bus documenting conflicts between police officers, miners and people protesting strip mining.

Others in the slowly growing camp had also arrived from far-flung spots. There were people who had hitchhiked from places like Baltimore, New York and North Carolina. There was a group that had traveled on a bus from Gainesville and a woman who had ridden a motorcycle about 100 miles from Orlando.

By Friday night about 30 tents had been pitched between the army navy store and a ramp leading onto Interstate 275. As a breeze blew through the camp some of the inhabitants gathered unde r a black plastic tarp that stretched between Mr. Rostrum's bus and a nearly identical bus that housed a mobile kitchen that had last been used at the Rainbow Gathering, an annual utopian assembly that was held this year at Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.

Those beneath the tent said that they had traveled to Tampa to exchange ideas, air opposition to the Republican platform and to try to grapple with what they described as disturbing realities that gripped the nation.

“I think a movement of ordinary people can mitigate some of the problems we have,” said Tom Over, 44, an independent journalist who had arrived from Columbus, Ohio. “There's so much money in politics it's undermining our democracy.”

Diamond Dan Whitaker, 74, from San Francisco, recited a short poem that he said “came to me like a revelation, like a voice in my head.”

Some people ate rice and beans. Somebody scrubbed a kettle that had been used to prepare the meal. Pe ople sitting at a small wooden table stacked with fliers for upcoming protest marches listened to a jazz radio station as cars whizzed past toward the interstate. A helicopter with green and red lights made a few passes overhead.

Surveying the scene, Charlie Meyers, 22, from Little Rock, Ark., said it reminded him of his first days at the Occupy Wall Street encampment last fall in New York.

“It's a lot like Zuccotti Park, Mr. Meyers, 22, said, “Except here we are allowed to have a kitchen.”