The past couple of years haven't been so kind to Tampa. Double-digit-percentage unemployment, plummeting home prices and underwater mortgages have sucked the party sprit clear out of town. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't sell out a single home game in 2010 and had ticket trouble in 2011. The Tampa Bay Rays have been playing playoff-caliber ball but needed star third baseman Evan Longoria to beg people to show up to games before a postseason run two years ago. You know what puts some pep into a down-on-its-luck town every time? An unsettled field of presidential hopefuls and a few thousand of their favorite protesters. After dropping Florida's notorious swing state vote to now-President Barack Obama in 2008, the Republican Party decided to hold its national convention in Tampa the week of Aug. 27. While the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning are away, the GOP will jam the Tampa Bay Times Forum with party faithful for the end of a nomination process that's been about as civil as a scrum between two NHL enforcers during a Lightning blowout. Considering no potential candidate has been the GOP's front-runner long enough to present a clear choice this early in the game, there's a chance the smoke-filled backroom deals of conventions past could reappear for this year's tilt in Tampa. That's just the least of the uncertainty. Just holding the convention in Tampa is no guarantee that the GOP can count on Florida's vote in November. The Republicans went to Minneapolis-St. Paul in 2008 in an attempt to harness Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa's voting power. All three of those states threw their support to Obama. The only sure thing about this convention is the impact on Tampa itself. Organizers are expecting up to 40,000 visitors for the convention alone and $170 million in economic impact for the city.