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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. Lots of it. They're banking big on the fact that the same guys waxing noble 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," says Tony Hernandez, manager of the Tampa Gold Club, "whether it's the delegates or the construction guys setting up and breaking things down."
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 $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 one-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.
In fact, nearly every club is already seeing an influx of porn stars, as well as out-of-state and out-of-retirement strippers. Hernandez says his club will keep things strictly apolitical, but others are playing right into the RNC theme.
"I'm going to do my Palin show," says Lisa Ann, a porn star who over the past four years has impersonated the Alaskan VP candidate in classics such as Who's Nailin' Paylin? and the point-of-view flick You're Nailin' Palin.
"I come out in my Sarah Palin suit with my hair up and my glasses, and I dance and strip and give away a lot of Palin paraphernalia," she says of her two-night performance at Thee DollHouse. "It's going to be fun."
Ann, who once appeared in a live sex scene with a Mitt Romney look-alike almost as stiff as the real thing, swears her performance isn't political commentary. "I'm sure that there will be a bunch of people from the convention there," she says, "but I'm not here to make fun of politicians."
There is at least one Tampa luminary for whom flashing T&A will be about more than making some cash. Joe Redner, the 72-year-old owner of Mons Venus, is a philosophizing free-speech advocate who has donated his land to the Occupy Tampa movement. He's also a pain in local politicians' asses. In 1976, Redner took over a bar called the Night Gallery, and after hearing on the radio about the Supreme Court's decision to allow nudity in movies, he concluded that nude dancing would have to be protected as well.
For years, Redner played cat-and-mouse with Tampa police. When a girl stripped onstage, undercover cops would arrest her. But as soon as they took her outside, Redner would replace her with another. Then he'd go bail out the first girl. "It took nine girls on a three-girl rotation for us not to get shut down," he laughs. "They ran out of undercovers!"
Redner himself was arrested dozens of times. Eventually, he won an injunction against the city's nudity ordinance. Since then, he has run eight times for political office. In 2007, he lost in a runoff for City Council with 44 percent of the vote. He has pretended in court to be gay to prevent a homophobic law from being enforced. His battles have pitted him against Hillsborough County Christian fundamentalists such as state Sen. Ronda Storms, who has likened Redner to the devil.
Like other strip-club owners, Redner says he looks forward to taking Republicans' money. But he sees it as long-overdue economic redistribution from the rich to the poor (his dancers are self-employed, receiving 100 percent of their lap dance fees and tips).
"The big businesses, energy companies, and banks that back the Republicans have been stealing from the little people for years," he says. "Now we're going to take some of their money. I'm glad to."
Redner doesn't hide his opinions. He doesn't have time to. He's got stage 4 lung cancer and a deep cough that reminds him of his inevitable death. He doesn't want to see the country he's gone to jail for more than 150 times — yes, a country with titty bars and pornography — thrown out for a reactionary Reich.
"I'm already used to the invasion of conservatives," he says. "They've invaded our whole country and taken over our whole system."
He won't be in town for the RNC. Instead, he'll be in Vegas for a strip-club convention. It's better that way, he says. In Sin City, Redner won't have to watch Mitt Romney preach about "family values" while calling for a war with Iran.