Ahead of the 2012 Republican National Convention, GOP activists are making a big push to turn Tampa into a red city.
Days before Tampa voters go to the polls to elect a new mayor and city council, a Miami-based third party group has been filling mailboxes across the city with ads urging people to vote Republican in Tuesday's nonpartisan election.
Sent by the Florida Future Leaders Fund, the mailer identifies Republican candidates running for mayor and city council, including Rose Ferlita, the only Republican mayoral candidate; District 1 council candidate Guido Maniscalco; District 2 candidate Scott Strepina; District 3 candidates Chris Hart and Michael Ciftci; District 4 candidate Tony DeSisto and District 7 candidates Joseph Caetano and Dean Hale.
"Next year, Tampa will host the Republican National Convention," one side of the flier reads. The other side says: "Vote March 1."
It's not unusual for major political parties to insert themselves into local races that are supposed to be nonpartisan, said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida.
"It certainly has happened in many local elections," he said. "It's actually quite common."
The presence of the GOP convention next year provides an added incentive to put Republicans in council seats and the mayor's office when the town is full of the party's elite.
"As a local Republican in Tampa, you'd want to put the best face forward for the party. It doesn't hurt to have a Republican presence," Jewett said. "It's possible they might be able to wrangle a few extra delegates out of it."
The mailer doesn't mention the District 5 East Tampa seat, which is an open race between four Democrats, or the District 6 West Tampa race, which pits newcomer Kelly Benjamin against incumbent and fellow Democrat Charlie Miranda.
The flier also overlooks several other Republicans in the council races, including District 4 candidate Joseph Citro.
Former Mayor Dick Greco, a Democrat and the perceived frontrunner in the mayoral race, has been targeted in attack ads by another Miami-based third party group backed by Republicans.
"It sounds as if an outside group is trying to get some voters to think along party lines," Jewett said.
The flier attacking Greco, which began appearing in mailboxes across the city Saturday, includes a photo of old City Hall with a spray bottle and a pair of gloves and says "Call Pam Iorio and tell her thank you for cleaning up Dick Greco's mess."
Tampa politics, though nonpartisan, are dominated by Democrats. Outgoing Mayor Pam Iorio and six of the seven members on the current city council are Democrats.
The nonpartisan label for city elections doesn't mean party affiliation plays no role, Jewett said. About all it really means is voters find no "D" or "R" after a candidate's name on the ballot.
"There's always a lot of behind-the-scenes activity," he said.