Circus-like atmosphere comes to Tampa Bay surrounding GOP convention

— The blocks around the Tampa Bay Times Forum resembled a circus Tuesday, and not just because of all the elephant pins.

With the nation's electoral eye cast toward the city during the Republican National Convention, the normal sounds of traffic and honking horns competed with speakers with bull horns trumpeting a mix of religion and politics.

A colorful Corvette with custom vinyl promoting Ron Paul for president circled the street along with a truck bearing large grisly pictures of an aborted fetus and a beat-up pickup carrying billboards promoting traditional marriage.

Ray Salva and a group from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia invited passers-by to deliver six-word stump speeches that they'd record and add to their archive of more than 20,000 such messages.

"We even brought our own stump," Salva said, pointing to a section of tree trunk that speakers could use as a podium.

A block away, Jessica Trebino of Fort Myers sold "It's Time for a Change" playing cards. "They're selling good so far," Trebino said of the cards, which feature caricatures of Obama and other Democratic politicians.

Not every business in the area was so lucky. Richard Moore was hawking political buttons and T-shirts from a formerly vacant storefront a block from Lykes Gaslight Park. For whatever reason, Republicans weren't making their way to the shop, he said.

"The business has been 90 percent local," Moore said. "We're just not getting anybody from the RNC."

Ubiquitous on nearly every corner downtown were supporters of U.S. Rep. Paul, an unsuccessful challenger to eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

"These are just folks who drifted down here and joined up with other Ron Paul people," said Jim Wasicka, 67, of Boulder, Colo.

As Tuesday afternoon wore on, an odd mix of Paul supporters, anarchists and others totaling about 100 marched through downtown streets escorted by an equal number of police on bikes, horseback and on foot.

At one point, police blocked the marchers' progress, leading to a brief, tense standoff. A rain shower cooled things off and the marchers turned back, heading for a field a few hundred yards from the convention hall. There, they met a group from the militantly anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas.

The two groups traded chants; riot police kept matters from escalating.

Lucas Thayer, an observer sympathetic with the Resist RNC group making up part of the protest march, said the whole exercise was a healthy one.

"It's a good showdown of free speech," Thayer said. "The contest of 2012 won't be between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. It will be between the people."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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