An estimated 45,000 Republican partisans, volunteers and news media people will descend on Minnesota’s Twin Cities this week for Monday’s opening of the Republican National Convention.
The St. Paul venue is expected to host four nights of prime time speechmaking before an estimated 100,000 red, white and blue balloons tethered to the ceiling of the Xcel Energy Center drop Thursday night and the general election contest between John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama gets under way.
The quadrennial gabfest in what has long been a blue state strong hold will feature President Bush and Dick Cheney as featured speakers as well as after-hours parties, receptions and concerts. Rocker Sammy Hagar will headline the traditional Southern Tribute night.
Jennifer Klekamp, a delegate from Cincinnati, traces her interest in politics back to her grandparents, who used to talk to her about the issues of the day.
"Just to be part of the process of electing what I hope is going to be the next president of the United States is just a tremendous honor for me," said Klekamp, who will be attending her first convention as a delegate.
"When I got the call, I was just so incredibly excited. I got chills up and down my spine. Ever since then, I’ve been pretty much just floating on air. And I really feel like my grandparents are kind of shining down on me."
Ohio is the state that put George W. Bush over the top during the 2004 election and is expected to be one of the battlegrounds in this year’s election as well.
Klekamp said the convention will give John McCain a chance to introduce himself to voters and put to rest questions that some may have about his age and his stand on issues, such as immigration reform.
"I hear everybody say John McCain is too old," she said. "To me, (age) just means so much because my grandfather was 70 when I was born, and he was a huge influence on my life. And the wisdom that comes from people in their 70s is just amazing. I like him (McCain), obviously, because he’s a war hero. But because he is a war hero and had all of these horrendous things happen to him, he doesn’t want war. I think he can help bring the world to peace through strength."
John Elkington, 60, of Memphis said he attended GOP conventions in 1984 and 1988 but lost interest in the 1990s.
"I’ve really been turned off by politics," he said, "but McCain is a special person…This is probably the last time I’ll get a chance to help get someone (nominated) who can make a difference in the world. This is the guy for the time."
Like many delegates, Elkington has agreed to blog his thoughts back to his hometown newspaper, The Commercial Appeal. The delegate bloggers will provide an unfiltered insiders’ perspective that has gone largely untapped in past conventions.
Ellen Jernigan, 69, of Hernando, Miss., is attending her fifth convention. She hopes the party will continue its pledge to keep taxes low. Others, like State Sen. Merle Flowers, 39, of Southaven, Miss., sees this year’s choices as a battle over "philosophical, fundamental differences in beliefs."
Elly Manov, a civil engineer in Vero Beach, Fla., and a native of Bulgaria, said she was happy to see that Hillary Clinton was given a roll call vote on her nomination as president at the Democratic National Convention, but not because she is a feminist.
"Any disharmony in the Democratic Party works in our favor," she said.
Glen Becerra, a delegate from Simi Valley, Calif., just outside of Los Angeles, said Republicans already have rallied around McCain and the convention "is just an opportunity for the larger audience — the larger national and international audience — to see the kind of leader he would be and the vision he has for America.”
The convention will be more than just an excuse to party or get the GOP faithful fired up, said Becerra, who will be attending his third convention as a delegate.
"It won’t be just a pep rally," he said. "There will be substantive issues dealt with at this convention. And I think that’s important. When you look at the situations facing the world right now — with Georgia and Russia, with the Middle East, the energy issues that we are facing — this is not a time for a party. This is a time for real leadership and thoughtful leadership on very important, very far-reaching ‘impactful’ issues."
Becerra disagrees with those who say the political conventions have lost their purpose and are nothing more than carefully packaged infomercials.
"The convention, for me, isn’t about going to a convention," he said. "It’s about engaging in the political process, engaging in your civic duty. That’s one of the reasons I feel this is important. It’s just kind of the character of who I am and who my family is. We engage. We don’t sit on the sidelines and complain. We see issues, and we get involved and try to work to make them better."
(E-mail Bartholomew Sullivan at sullivanb(at)shns.com. E-mail Michael Collins at collinsm(at)shns.com)