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Tampa Dispatch: The GOP’s Ladies Room

TAMPA—Feeling a little addled by the mess of white tents, clueless volunteers, and hapless security of the GOP convention, ladies? Respite awaits at Tampa’s “Woman Up Pavilion,” a convention-week oasis located just a few doors down from the Hooters in a Tampa shopping center.

Inside, guests can attend panels on social media and space exploration, or simply while away the time sipping signature cocktails—the “Lady Lemonade,” say, or the “Woman Uptini,” made of Grey Goose L’orange, triple sec, lime juice, and cranberry. Stylists are on hand so that appearance-conscious visitors can also have their hair blown out.

A combination office space, night club, talk-show set, and beauty parlor, the Woman Up Pavilion is sponsored by Dr. Miriam Adelson—Sheldon Adelson’s wife and also a physician specializing in drug addiction. The overhead lighting is fluorescent, but the room has been decorated in black, red, pink and white; large black bookshelves hold vases filled with hot pink dyed roses and carnations and black-and-white statuettes. A purveyor of Republican jewelry and home accessories named Barbie Jones has goods for sale. The bathroom counters offer more roses, Listerine, and a basket of tampons and sanitary napkins.

And the place is kind of awesome.

Yesterday, when I first visited, I found myself lingering for nearly six hours. A pair of women in their twenties lounged on one of the many white couches, chatting about a relationship’s status (“official” or not?). An older woman entered, hair plastered from the rain, and asked where she could find a stylist. (The pavilion’s designer, explained that she knew Florida’s muggy weather would leave women in desperate need of touch-ups.) Nearby, the barefoot wife of a Pennsylvania delegate tapped her French-manicured toes while making conversation with another young woman about the impressive staying-power of Kim Kardashian’s perfume.

Officially, the Woman Up Pavilion is not just a place for play. Organized by the Young Gun Network, a self-styled, center-right non-profit associated with the similarly-named coterie of conservative lawmakers that includes Paul Ryan, the pavilion features programming and some substantive panels. On Wednesday, the Lieutenant Governor of Florida, Jennifer Carroll, will join Laura Bush’s former Chief of Staff, Anita McBride, to discuss U.S. foreign policy. An afternoon session will feature European Union parliamentarians warning against America’s “Europeanization.”

And the conversation in the pavilion tends towards the serious, too—though some of the guests talking politics inside appeared better informed than others. One woman suggested a reading list, including Milton Friedman. All the same, there’s a touch of Sally Jesse Raphael in all the programming, too. During a conversation on social media and advocacy, Anita MonCrief—a disillusioned ACORN employee who now works with True the Vote, an anti-voter fraud initiative—teared up while describing her political conversion.

For the record, the Democrats will offer women’s programming in Charlotte next week as well. They’ve also launched a discussion tour on women’s reproductive rights called the “Romney/Ryan: Wrong for Women Tour,” according to The Washington Post. This seems like smart politics: Romney is losing to Obama among women by 8 points in Colorado, 14 points in Virginia, and 23 points in Wisconsin, according to The New York Times. Judging by the success of the Woman Up Pavilion, a smart strategy for the convention might look a little different.