Members of the Illinois delegation wandered through the lobby of the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in steamy Tampa today, and were treated to a magnificent ice sculpture of the capitol - the site of many meltdowns.
Artwork aside, the official Illinois Republican program got off to an inauspicious start today.
"The rich got theirs / ours never arrived / you can't make a living on $7.95," chanted a handful of protesters that had taken over the podium.
Amid the din of breakfast and conversation, a group of speakers covertly made their way to the front. We thought they may be Illinois delegation speakers. Instead, they had posed as hotel workers, snuck in and began chanting.
They were from all over the country, and were stopping at delegation hotels to spread their message of increasing the minimum wage.
"Our voices are not being heard, and that's why we decided to come down here," said protester Tamiko Edwards from Peoria.
The activists would not answer who had funded their trip, but said they were not working for the Democratic party.
In the clip below, the protesters interrupt the breakfast with chanting; later Edwards speaks with reporters.
After the protesters were escorted out, the delegation events resumed. Word spread throughout the morning that a surprise guest would make his presence felt. He did indeed - via a video projection. Sen. Mark Kirk, in a heavily edited video but sounding as clear as he has since he suffered his stroke, offered his best wishes to the delegation and said he wished he could have been there. And he praised the efforts of the Republican party in picking up seats in the last election, and called this coming election “one of the most important in my lifetime.”
Delegates in attendance rose to a standing ovation after he concluded his taped remarks.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert then riled the crowd up with a rousing speech of his own. He continued the mantra from the previous day - noting that the best way to change the Republican party in Illinois would be to start at the state level and "fire Mike Madigan." He also lamented the Democrats' congressional redistricting, noting that incumbent Judy Biggert's district had been redrawn to include "Cubs Park," and other Democratic pockets within Cook and DuPage County. Biggert is locked in a tight reelection race with former congressman and scientist, Bill Foster.
Hastert lauded the delegates in attendance for doing their part to help elect Republicans. But he said the job doesn't end when the convention does.
"Get the job done in Tampa, smack your hands together," he said, "and then go back and go to work."
In the clip below, Hastert calls judges who approved congressional redistricting "Chicago as usual."
I asked Speaker Hastert about the dynamic of the Republican party these days. Did he have an easier job than Current Speaker John Boehner, who presides over a fractured party that includes the far right Tea Party? Hastert laughed, told me he felt that, at least at the convention, the party would come together as one, but that it had to begin a movement toward the middle.
Former Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman also addressed the Illinois crowd, saying that his new Super PAC would be heavily involved in a grassroots effort to help elect Illinois Republicans in key races.
As the morning festivities died down, it was time for the big show. Hundreds of delegates and media members congregated in the lobby, awaiting the bus to the heavily fortified Tampa Bay Times Forum.
We await a big night tonight, with the formal nomination of Mitt Romney, and speeches by his wife Ann Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Check back here throughout the day for updates, and I will see you on Chicago Tonight this evening!