Updated 10:10 a.m., 9/6/12
TAMPA, Fla. — Some of the leading voices in conservative politics gathered to honor Washington election lawyer Cleta Mitchell Tuesday evening in Foley & Lardner's lofty downtown offices, just outside the Republican National Convention.
As bacon-wrapped scallops and chicken cordon bleu poppers circulated through the 27th floor room that overlooks the main convention arena, conservative columnist George Will described how tough Mitchell could be when negotiating his work contracts. But he said her real legacy was defending free speech in election battles across the country.
"She is probably the principal defender of the First Amendment against Republicans who are just as bad if not more so than those Democrats," Will said. "It shows one hardy Oklahoman is worth a legion of misguided Republicans and Democrats."
The party for Mitchell, a Foley partner and president of the Republican National Lawyers Association, included both Tampa political and business leaders as well as the firm's Tampa- and Washington-based lawyers.
Mitchell, named one of the National Journal's most influential women in Washington this year, shared laughs with Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Taxpayer Reform and promoter of the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge."
She has represented candidates, campaigns and members of Congress, as well as state and national political party committees. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli told the crowd that with Mitchell, "there's some new battle going on somewhere that I don't even know about that is hanging by a thread just because Cleta's involved."
The president of the National Organization for Marriage, which advocates against same-sex marriages, described a recent win in Minnesota with a voter ID bill and a marriage amendment bill, a battle that pitted the state's executive branch against the legislative branch.
"Because of Cleta's work, I have to say two days ago we have our first big victories before a supreme court," Brian Brown told the crowd.
After several speakers noted her humble nature, Mitchell said she thought nobody would show up to a party honoring her. "I love being part of this law firm," she said.
National Law Journal photo by Todd Ruger.
Correction: The original post incorrectly stated that Cleta Mitchell represents the three Republican members of the Federal Election Commission. Mitchell does not represent those FEC members.