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Donald Trump to get 'Statesman of the Year' award just before GOP convention

CONCORD, N.H.-- On the eve of the Republican National Convention this August, real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump will accept an accolade of his own just an hour south of Tampa as he receives the 2012 "Statesman of the Year" award from the Sarasota Republican Party.

An invitation to the event, which serves as a fundraiser for the Sarasota GOP, shows ticket prices ranging from $150 for general admission to $1,000 for a private meeting with the outspoken Trump at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota.

Trump spokesman Michael Cohen says Trump is "honored to be the recipient of this prestigious award," which was bestowed in 2011 on former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. Then-presidential candidate Herman Cain delivered the keynote address at that ceremony.

Despite controversy surrounding his persistent questioning of President Barack Obama's American citizenship, Trump has emerged as a prominent surrogate for presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney; recording robo-calls and conducting interviews for Romney's in early primary states, and raising money on the candidate's behalf.

In May, Trump hosted a fundraiser for Romney at Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, and on June 28 he attended another fundraising event for the former Massachusetts governor in New York City. A heavily promoted "Dine with the Donald" event, in which donors could win a contest to have a meal with Trump and Romney, was rescheduled, according to aides to both men. 

Despite all this, the two have not campaigned together -- or even been seen in public together --  since Romney accepted Trump's endorsement in February, fueling speculation that the Romney campaign would prefer to keep its distance from its supporter's more controversial remarks.

Trump's presence just an hour down Interstate 75 from the Tampa convention, set to begin the following Monday, could put an unwanted spotlight on his birtherism at a time when most Republicans would rather talk about almost anything else.

Cohen, however, said he expected Trump to take an active and visible role in the convention.

"It would seem obvious that Donald Trump will play a role in the Tampa convention, as his massive popularity, reflected in this recent award, shows what an asset he would be in making the convention into an even greater success."