As Tampa GOP debate nears, Republicans and protesters weigh in
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01/20/12 Kelly Benjamin
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After tomorrow's South Carolina presidential primary election, national attention will turn to Florida, where the next primary will be held on Tuesday, January 31. This coming Monday, Tampa's University of South Florida will host a Presidential primary debate in a state that has been recently been penalized by the National Republican party for moving the date of it's primary election forward.

Florida is a political battleground state that typically sees a lot of action during national elections, but this year, the GOP's national committee voted to cut the state's delegation in half from 99 to 50 as punishment for the state GOP moving it's primary forward in an attempt to have a greater influence on who will be the party's nominee. When the GOP holds it's National Convention in Tampa this August, Florida delegates will get the worst seats in the house and hotel rooms that are neither favorable nor convenient to the convention being held downtown.

Republican Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, holding court at Buddy Brew coffee shop this morning, says he isn't happy about the penalties:

"Well, I think that's kind of silly, I think Florida is an incredibly important state and ought to have a very important voice in who our nominee should be."

The first Presidential primaries typically take place in small states giving even lesser known and underfunded candidates a chance to connect with interested voters and perhaps perform better than expected and pull off an upset. But in recent years several larger states have been vying for earlier primaries in hopes of securing a greater political commitment from candidates. Sharpe sees the value in small states leading the off the primaries but still would like a greater voice for Florida in the process:

"A candidate who is unknown who doesn't have the capital to run and never compete in Florida."

Tampa attorney and former City Council candidate, Republican Tony DeSisto, is happy about Florida's new primary date despite the penalties.

"I think Florida is very representative of the country at large."

Regarding the Republican debate being held in Tampa on Monday, Desisto says he'd like to hear the candidates talk more about substantial concrete plans rather than slogans.

"Especially in our political climate now it's easier to give little soundbytes and negative attacks."

And who is Desisto supporting?

"At this point I'm gonna be supporting Romney 'cause he's what's left."

Some folks in Tampa aren't thrilled about the Republican debates coming to Tampa on Monday. University of South Florida student Micheal Fernandez is upset that, although USF is hosting the debate, very few students are allowed to attend.

Tampa resident and activist Jen Lopez says she plans to protest Monday's debate based on their stances on Gay and Lesbian rights.

The Republican Presidential debate is being sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, NBC, the National Journal, and the Florida Council of 100. The debate will be televised live on Monday at 9pm on NBC.

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