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Fear and Loathing in Tampa: Your Gonzo Guide to the Republican National Convention

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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. 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.

"We're bringing in different porn stars from everywhere," Hernandez says, rattling off names like Nikki Delano and Nina Mercedez.

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."

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Michael E. Miller

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