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Reporter's notebook: Utah GOP front and center in Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. — No more sitting in the cheap seats for Utah's delegation to the Republican National Convention.

After years of being relegated to the back of the hall at past conventions, the state's connection to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has paid off with seats only about a dozen rows back from the stage.

"It's the best it's ever been," state GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said.

He said Utah's delegation is behind only Wisconsin and Illinois, just to the left of where Romney will become the first Mormon presidential candidate from a major political party on Thursday night.

Four years ago, Utahns were squeezed between delegates from the Northern Mariana Islands and the CNN broadcast booth when Republicans put Arizona Sen. John McCain at the top of the ticket during their convention in St. Paul, Minn.

"Mitt Romney didn't forget his friends in Utah," Wright said.

With a planned trip Monday to the LDS cattle ranch in central Florida cancelled because of the severe weather expected as Tropical Storm Isaac moves through the area, Utah's GOP delegates have scheduled a second service project.

Wright said delegates will gather in their hotel to assemble some 1,000 hygiene kits with help from local church officials.

"It's a good activity for everyone. There's going to be a lot of weather, and they don't want people moving around," he said. "And it's a team-builder."

The project is in addition to the back-to-school kits for area students that the delegation is scheduled to put together later in the week.

There may be a few surprise guests at the delegation's first breakfast meeting Monday.

Josh Romney, one of Mitt Romney's five sons, is expected to make an appearance. A planned appearance by former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who served under President George W. Bush, was cancelled due to the weather.

Seeing a Romney son, of course, is not a novelty for Utah Republicans. Josh Romney, who lives in Millcreek and briefly considered running for office in Utah, is a member of the delegation.


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