Bob Buckhorn, the Democratic mayor of Tampa, Fla., won’t have to wait long for the ultimate test of his short tenure in office. Elected only last year, Buckhorn is now deep in preparations for the Republican National Convention that begins on Aug. 27, an event he calls his city’s coming-out party before an international audience. He’s leaving nothing to chance: Tampa will have 4,000 uniformed police officers on hand, part of the mayor’s strategy of “overwhelming force” to maintain order amid an anticipated flood of protesters. And he’s emphatic that, despite representing the opposing party, he wants nothing more than to help host the best national convention ever. Buckhorn sat down with National Journal Daily to discuss his city’s preparations and his perspective on the presidential race. Edited excerpts follow.
NJ What does hosting the Republican convention mean for Tampa?
BUCKHORN This is Tampa’s coming-out party. This is a midsize market—we’re not New York, we’re not Chicago, we’re not [Los Angeles]. Both Tampa and Charlotte are midsize regional powers that are hosting international events, which is one of the few times this has happened. Even though we have hosted four Super Bowls … the magnitude of this is significantly larger than anything we’ve done before.
NJ It’s bigger than the Super Bowl?
BUCKHORN Remember, it’s a one-day event. This is a five-day event. This comes with security issues we never, ever broached for the Super Bowl. It’s a very different dynamic post-9/11. It’s very different this election because of the economy and the whole Occupy movement, and you have the potential for combustible circumstances. But we’ve been training for a year to do this. We’re as well trained as we could be. I’m sure we’ll make mistakes, but it won’t be for having not prepared.
NJ Why was Tampa chosen as a site for the Republican convention?
BUCKHORN Well, as Tampa goes, so goes the [Interstate 4] corridor. And as I-4 goes, so goes Florida. And as Florida goes, the nation goes. It is really Ground Zero, for any number of reasons. Tampa getting chosen made a lot of sense. The parties were looking to move beyond their traditional sites, move to emerging areas in the South. And so they picked us.
NJ What’s it like watching the presidential race from your vantage point in Tampa?
BUCKHORN I never thought I would look forward to the day when I would long for the return of the Cialis ads. In swing areas like Tampa, we are inundated with this stuff coming over the bow. I cannot turn the TV on without one of the super PACs or the campaigns saying something unkind about someone else. And it’s going to be like that for the next four months. Tampa is such an important area for both parties that they are going to spend a fortune in that marketplace, spewing whatever it is they are spewing. I try to teach my kids democracy is a participatory process, that it elevates the greater good. But it’s hard when you see some of these ads to tell a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old that this is a good thing, this is something you ought to do, to go out and serve people. When you turn the TV on and see them talking about each other’s mothers—it’s embarrassing. It really is embarrassing.
NJ Have President Obama’s attacks been too harsh?
BUCKHORN There are legitimate criticisms, and there are criticisms that are below the belt. I think what people are looking for in this election is to be inspired and for someone who has a plan. We as a country are facing serious problems, and we want serious people dealing with them. Your record is entirely subject to scrutiny. I get it; I’ve been there. But I would hope during the course of this campaign, we would have a meaningful discussion about the course of this country and the path we’re going to take.
NJ You don’t think we’re having that conversation now?
BUCKHORN No, I don’t. And that’s sort of the nature of campaigns. It’s not an indictment of either Governor [Mitt] Romney or Obama’s campaign, it’s just sort of the trail that American politics has gone down now. Until you get that unregulated money out of the system, it’s going to continue going that way.
NJ Would Romney win Florida if he picked Senator Marco Rubio as his running mate?
BUCKHORN If you believe the latest polling data, his election wouldn’t have impacted the race at all. He just got elected; he really hasn’t built his brand in Florida yet. He’s Hispanic; obviously that is appealing for some. But … Senator Rubio had an opportunity to be that moderate voice on immigration and chose not to. So I don’t see the benefit he would have brought to the ticket.