I knew there'd be characters. I knew there'd be colour. I knew there'd be a whole lot of God blessing America and Star Spangled Bannering, middle-aged men with straw hats and badge collections.
I knew the word "freedom" would get a fair barrelling. But as I passed through central Tampa to the looming halls of the Republican National Convention, I hoped for more than blind faith.
There were extremes, of course. I was confronted early, as I approached the extensive security checkpoints, by a person most enthusiastic at the prospect of discussing politics. She wasn't a party official or even a Republican. She was a middle-aged woman dressed as a giant vagina.
"When you see Mitt Romney, tell him hands off our vaginas!" the woman cried.
I smiled. Her costume looked homemade, which made sense. There were other vaginas standing nearby, in a posse of pink protest. "It's time to end the war on women!"
Inside, things were (slightly) less in-your-face. In the enormous hall gathered thousands of Republicans from as far off as American Samoa and Guam. They watched a show that swung from forgettable speeches to peculiar musical arrangements of My Girl. The production looked very expensive.
I spoke with a Texan alternate delegate named Mary Lou. She wore a cowboy hat and a less-than-subtle shirt in the design of the Texan flag.
"Mitt Romney has the economic credentials to fix America," she told me in a somewhat rehearsed tone.
"Guns?" I asked.
"Oh, I'm for gun rights, absolutely!"
"What's wrong with Obama?"
"I think we're going socialist."
Next I spoke with Salvador. Though he sported the same cowboy hat and the same deafeningly loud shirt, his politics were rather different.
"I'm not a gun nut."
"Is it hard to get behind Mitt Romney?"
Salvador identified as a libertarian conservative. He really wasn't convinced by Romney's promises of fiscal conservatism. "You hear, really quite often, you should vote for Mitt Romney - he's the lesser of two evils," said Salvador. "I really can't say that for certain."
Indeed, the party divisions were frank. Though Ron Paul finished a distant second to Romney with just 8 per cent of the Republican delegate count, his supporters heckled the official roll call, walked out of the convention in protest at party rule changes, and argued with Romney's fans. One struggled to believe everyone was on the same team.
There were characters. Booming voices with silk shirts and belt buckles the size of steering wheels. There was colour. Giant fat men eating two hotdogs at once, with stars-and-stripes ties and signs saying,"NObama!" There were also many informed, intellectual, charming, patriotic Americans. Everyone had impeccable manners. And almost every person was white.
By the end, though, I wondered, for all the show's rhetoric and gusto, how many Conventioneers liked their candidate. Republican faith wasn't blind, but for many it seemed a touch reluctant. Short of donning a giant vagina costume, I wondered what Romney could possibly do to give himself a bit of spark.
"Does Mitt Romney excite you?" I asked Mary Lou. She'd backed him right through the primaries.
"Honestly?" she asked. "No. But the idea of Mitt Romney excites me."
I'm not sure that's enough.By Jack Tame