By Claudia Parsons
TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Abe Lincoln, Wyatt Earp and the Wicked Witch of the West walk into a hockey arena...
This is not a joke, it's the Republican National Convention.
When the most passionate conservatives in America gather to nominate their presidential candidate, many of them wear their hearts on their sleeves - or rather on their buttons, T-shirts, hats and costumes.
The bearded president, the legendary Kansas lawman and the witch from "The Wizard of Oz" were just a few of the more extravagant costumes seen this week in Tampa. The latter two were worn by members of the Kansas delegation, which apparently wanted to showcase some of the state's most beloved characters.
Texas delegates were not in costume but they were hard to miss in their matching cowboy hats and color-coordinated shirts - stars and stripes on Tuesday, sky blue on Wednesday.
"I think tomorrow's casual day," said delegate Ross Davis, who described himself as "a Jewish, third-generation independent oil and gas producer from Houston" and was sporting a button with the slogan: "Don't Mess with Texas."
Nearby, members of the West Virginia delegation proudly wore black helmets adorned with stickers proclaiming slogans such as "Coal keeps the lights on," a reference to their state's long history of mining.
"Our entire caucus is wearing this miner's helmet to protest the unbelievable war on coal that Obama has waged on us," said Bob Fish, a 67-year-old delegate from the city of Parkersburg, criticizing the Obama administration's efforts to curb emissions of carbon and other air pollutants from power plants.
Stars and stripes were everywhere, from cowboy boots to chunky gold and diamante jewelry. Omnipresent state lapel pins made it easy to identify the origin of delegates not as ostentatious as the Texans.
While the Republican leadership was keen to present a united front behind presidential nominee Mitt Romney, more than a few delegates were still pining for their hero, Ron Paul, the libertarian from Texas who is retiring from Congress this year after a colorful career and three failed White House runs.
"Ron Paul Revolution" T-shirts were in abundance, and the people wearing them were among the more boisterous.
Others wore buttons that showed their disdain for President Barack Obama, including: "Hands off my healthcare," "Obama Oy Vey" and "How's that hope and change working out for you?"
There were buttons displaying nostalgia for former presidents - "I'm for Nixon" - and presidential candidates - "Goldwater in '64," a reference to Barry Goldwater, a conservative hero who lost the 1964 election to Lyndon Johnson. (A more obscure version of the latter was "Au H2O," from the periodic table's symbols for gold and water.)
A popular trend among the more elegant conservative women was jewelry in the shape of an elephant, the logo of the Republican Party, said to represent strength and dignity.
North Carolina delegate Nancy Mazza wore a glitzy elephant pendant necklace and confessed to having a collection of elephant-themed trinkets back home: "You should see my office."
Sitting next to her and sporting a three-inch diamante elephant brooch was Dena Barnes, a member of the North Carolina Federation of Republican Women.
"Some of our ladies always have our bling pins," she said.
(Editing by Jim Loney)