By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
From cash-hungry strippers to protesters dressed as vaginas, your gonzo guide to the Republican National Convention
"Florida is such a huge piece of the pie in terms of national elections," Mandvi says. "So it becomes a kind of lightning rod for all kinds of political energy. There is a reason why the Republicans are having the convention in Tampa this year."
He pauses before offering another explanation for the locale of next week's event: "You can't ignore the fact that the Republicans are coming and having their convention in the city that has the best strip clubs in the world."
In five years on the campaign trail, Mandvi has learned what to expect from moments like the RNC. In Tampa, there will be a vastly different scene from the one at the Dems' convention in Charlotte.
"The DNC felt like just a big frat party, with kegs and people having a great time and dancing. The after-parties were all video games," he says of the 2008 convention in Denver. "Then the parties at the RNC always seemed to be debutante balls, with ice sculptures and women in ball gowns."
In Florida, The Daily Show won't struggle for material. Just ask executive producer Rory Albanese, who has helped coordinate coverage of six past conventions.
"A lot of that is just because it looks like America's penis," he says of Florida. "We didn't invent that. If it was Long Island, like I'm from, we wouldn't be a very well-hung country."
The Tampa convention also dovetails with two of The Daily Show's most recurring themes: the mainstream media's failings and money's ever-expanding role in politics.
"We all love watching CNN during debates or on election night," Albanese says. "It's like they have Q from the James Bond movies in the basement saying: 'OK, Anderson [Cooper], here is the new jet pack. You're going to be flying around the studio.' What weird piece of technology will CNN have spent $50 million on and have no need for tonight?"
In May, The Daily Show's close cousin, The Colbert Report, poked fun at a mysterious South Floridian named Josue Larose for forming more than 600 PACs and 64 Super PACs, supposedly representing everyone from supermodels to Taco Bell customers.
As usual, Comedy Central's pranks hint at a deeper, darker truth. For months, the Tampa area has been flooded with political attack ads by shady, well-financed Super PACs, says Mayor Buckhorn. On a national scale, these anonymous expenditures could decide the election.
"There is so much political advertising coming through here, none of which is saying anything nice about anybody. And that's true of both sides," he says.
For a moment, Buckhorn sounds almost as cynical as Mandvi peeking behind the political curtain and finding nothing but frat boys drinking and screwing.
"The ads are just nonstop," he admits. "It's gotten to the point where we see so much of it that I almost long for the days of those Cialis ads."
Under the black lights of the Mons Venus strip club, Monica's eyes and teeth glow like St. Elmo's fire. Six-inch stilettos dangle from her toes as she sits at a waist-high table. Her folded arms prop up her bare, surgically enhanced breasts, nipples staring in opposite directions like a gunslinger's pistols. She smells like mint chewing gum and cigarettes.
It's a Monday afternoon. On an octagonal stage, a thin Asian girl grinds her naked hips against a pole as a few customers gaze at the gyrating spectacle.
"It's going to be as big as the Super Bowl," Monica says of the convention, over the heavy thumps of a hip-hop song. "Why do you think they are having it here in Tampa? It's the Mons. People have got to see what it's all about, even Republicans."
For millions of Americans, the RNC will be a pivotal political moment. In picking Romney and Ryan, Republicans will commit to a radical vision in which government and its social role are decimated, while the rich pay lower taxes than at any point since the Spanish flu ravaged the earth.
But for strippers, porn stars, and a small group of savvy small-business owners, the convention means something much simpler: money. And lots of it. They're banking big on the fact that the same guys waxing nobly about family values will be lining up at titty bars after midnight.
"The history we've heard about the RNC is that there are people who will come out and spend, whether it's the delegates or the construction guys setting up and breaking things down," says Tony Hernandez, the manager of the Tampa Gold Club.
Strip clubs have pimped themselves out in anticipation. The Gold Club has installed more black granite and marble tile than in a P. Diddy mansion. There will be $7 grouper nuggets and an $18 veal shank on the menu, Hernandez says, plus Dom Pérignon and cigars, of course. There will also be giant flat-screen monitors, so delegates can tweet about the convention even while getting a lap dance.
But if that isn't elite enough for 1 percenters, they can rent a private skybox with its own bar and stripper stage. A private entrance allows limos to pull right up to the door and prevents paparazzi from snapping politically embarrassing photos. And as a special convention bonus, delegates will also be treated to an assortment of their favorite adult-film stars.