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The view from the Republican National Convention, courtesy of our inside source, Rep. Julia Hurley

The Elephants in the Room

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"By the way, there's no Fox News here," says Julia Hurley, on the phone from her hotel in Tampa, Fla. "There's no Fox News. I can't believe it. There is no Fox News in this hotel. I can't take it. So I finally went to the guy at the front desk and I said, 'What is it going to take to find Fox News anywhere?' I've been stuck watching Clinton News Network and MSNBC. I'm ready to just die."

Hurley, an outgoing GOP state representative from Lenoir City — and, famously, a former Hooters server — graciously agreed to be our primary source at the Republican National Convention. We can't be there ourselves, so the Scene decided to check in with her throughout the week for updates on all the politicking, speech-making and hobnobbing — but mostly the hobnobbing.

As for the specter of a Fox Newsless existence — raised by a truly surprising oversight on the part of a hotel preparing to welcome thousands of Republican guests — Hurley reports that crisis was averted when the hotel managed to beam the conservative signal to a television in the hotel's downstairs lounge.

So, now it's standing room only in the lounge for Fox & Friends every morning, we asked?

"Nobody knows," Hurley says with a laugh. "There's three or four of us. Me, Tony Shipley, Linda Osborne. Basically the upper East Tennessee delegation, and there's only five of us and we just [gather] around the Fox News every morning."

Hurley arrived in Tampa on Saturday afternoon, and although the official start of the convention had been postponed due to weather — the main event kicked off Tuesday — the weekend was full of events to welcome the delegates. Most of those, however, were in downtown Tampa, 45 minutes from where the Tennessee delegation is staying.

Hurley explains that delegates from swing states are put up closer to the heart of the convention, presumably an act of encouragement to remind them how much they're needed in November. Delegates from in-the-bag states like Tennessee won't be on the front lines of the presidential race, and so they find themselves a bit further from the action. Moreover, to get to the city they must cross a causeway, which the state of Florida closes when wind speeds exceed 45 mph.

"Really, the Tennessee delegation is kind of out here together, on our own," she says.

Hurley was able to get downtown on Sunday night, she says, to eat at Columbia Restaurant, Florida's oldest restaurant, famous for attracting legendary guests from Babe Ruth to Marilyn Monroe. Among the many media members at the Columbia, Hurley says, was the Today show's bare-ankled host Matt Lauer.

"Everybody at the table was like, 'Oh my God, there's Matt Lauer,' she recalls." "They're whispering, and I was like, well let's go say hi. Hello?"

Not wanting to put him out, Hurley says she went over to his table, introduced herself, slid her business card across the table, and told him to enjoy his dinner.

"Just in case, you know. Here you go, just in case you need me," she says.

On Monday morning, before a breakfast with members of Tennessee's congressional delegation, Hurley says she went to the hotel's main restaurant and had another chance encounter.

"And Bob Corker's sitting there, all by himself," she recalls. "Having a bowl of Raisin Bran. He's just hanging out, by himself, just sitting there. I said, 'Bob?' and he goes, 'Julia?' And I was like, 'What are you doing here all by yourself?' and he goes, 'Well, I was hungry.' "

Due to a schedule change, a dinner put on by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer — this is not a joke — was held Monday night. Speakers at the dinner — there are speakers at everything — included Ramsey and U.S. Rep. Diane Black.

Despite having been invited to one of four big parties that night, Hurley says that after the dinner, she and about 15 other delegates made their way to — where else? — the original Hooters, just five miles away in Clearwater.

Hurley says the primary topic of conversation over "late-night bar beers" has been the ongoing discussion within the state party about Tennessee's open primary system, and whether to push for closed contests. Before that, she says, the buzz concerned what looked to be an impending rule fight between grassroots party members and the Republican National Committee. An initial proposal would have diminished states' role in choosing their own delegates and given more power to candidates. A compromise was reached on that point, but other issues were still unresolved as late as Tuesday morning. (The rules would eventually pass, over what was arguably equally loud opposition from Ron Paul supporters throughout the hall.)

The convention began in earnest Tuesday afternoon, on a particularly exciting note for Hurley. Though she arrived in Tampa as an alternate delegate, she says the delegate for whom she was serving as an alternate has been to multiple conventions and offered to give up his spot so Hurley could be on the floor to nominate Mitt Romney. And did she take him up on that offer, we asked, somewhat rhetorically?

"Damn straight," she says. "I am so excited."

Later on Tuesday, during the convention roll call — a mere formality these days, but a beloved tradition for folks on the floor and the political junkies viewing at home — Hurley was indeed one of Tennessee's 58 delegates, who unanimously cast their votes for Mitt Romney.

The night ended with speeches from Ann Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and a performance by alternative rock band Three Doors Down. (That last bit is also a true fact, not a joke).

On Wednesday morning, Hurley reports, the Tennessee delegation was headed to the Florida Aquarium for a luncheon with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. But the former governor and senior senator is not the headliner. No, Hurley says the delegation will have the chance to meet another star — the dolphin who starred alongside Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, and Morgan Freeman in last year's inspiring family film Dolphin Tale. Her name is Winter. We assume she is a Republican.

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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