TAMPA, Fla. — The last time the Republican Party convened, in Minneapolis-St. Paul, John McCain’s speech was the big event. Four years later, there’s not much love for the campaign McCain ran after securing the nomination here.
On the floor of the convention hall in Tampa Wednesday night, few seemed pay close attention as the 2008 Republican nominee took the stage well before the network TV cameras tuned in to the festivities.
The short version of what Republicans here said they learned from McCain’s 2008 campaign: not much. The Romney campaign has telegraphed a willingness to fight far dirtier than McCain did — or at least far dirtier than Republicans wanted — whetting the appetite of conservatives.
On the ground in Tampa, people are eager for a shift, and just as eager to forget McCain’s campaign.
“That’s old news,” said Lenny Curry, chairman of the Florida GOP. “Mitt Romney is nominated and he has a resume for our time.”
David Dhillon, a delegate from California, was happy to see Romney push further on certain issues than McCain was willing.
“I believe he did not want to be accused of being racist, and he thought that being a little friendlier and keeping it even that way would have worked for him,” he said. “[Romney’s] learned that the gloves are off. You can still do it and respect the presidency.”
Dhillon dismissed the growing outcry that Romney’s strategy is race-baiting. “In my personal life experience the biggest racists I’ve seen are Democrats,” he said. “And that’s a very small percentage of people. I am 50 years old but I have yet to see anyone who are Republicans who are racists. There may be, but I’ve never met them.”
Kelly Nutty, a Wisconsin Republican who is not a delegate but was on the floor as a guest, urged Romney to focus on the base. McCain, she said, let too many Republican voters stay home. She said Romney will win if he boosts GOP turnout. She wasn’t worried how a base strategy might affect independent voters: “Are there really any true independent voters anymore?”